‘Boredom is good for you,’ says new book

Lost in thought: One of 28 castings of The Thinker, a bronze sculpture by Auguste Rodin.

How to be Bored is a new book that extols the virtues of doing absolutely nothing. Is boredom a forgotten treasure that stimulates our imagination, or is it just, well, boring?

You are home alone. Your phone is out of battery. There has been a power-cut: no computers, no PlayStation and no television. You have even done all your homework. There is nothing to do.

Does this scenario fill you with dread? Would you, after five minutes, be pining for reunification with your material comforts?

If so, you are one of a growing number of people who have forgotten how to be bored.

Eva Hoffman, a Polish-American academic, explains it all in her book How to be Bored. She bemoans the loss by humans of the capacity ‘to be bored occasionally, to be by ourselves, or just sit and stare’.

Hoffman says that ‘the ability to reflect and look inwards is very important to our well-being’. It gives us time away from our digital distractions. Technology has, according to the author, hugely increased people’s fear of boredom. It increases anxiety, and it means we avoid ‘a deeper sense of satisfaction and pleasure’.

This is not the first work to advocate tedium. A 2013 study by Dr Sandi Mann of the University of Central Lancashire found that periods of boredom make us more creative.

She asked two groups of students to find creative uses for a pair of polystyrene cups. Before the experiment, she asked one group to carry out the dull task of copying down telephone numbers. It was this group that found far more uses for the cups. Dr Mann thinks that parents should allow their children to be bored so that they learn to entertain themselves and to stimulate their own imaginations.

Having an imagination is vital for life. Any decision one makes involves predicting the future, which requires an imagination. If that is stunted, the decisions you make might be flawed.

People will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid being bored. In a study by the University of Virginia in 2014, 18 of the 42 participants chose to give themselves an electric shock instead of sitting alone for 15 minutes.

The anti-boredom industry is huge. Applications like Angry Birds and Temple Run are successful largely because of our desperation to stave off boredom. But is being bored an indispensable part of the human experience?

Bored stiff

‘Absolutely!’ say some. The modern world bombards us with so many distractions that we struggle to find a moment’s peace. But it is in times of tedium that we think deeply about the world. Who knows how many books would not have been written if the authors had never been bored?

But while boredom may be fine for high-minded intellectuals, it could lead others to crime and delinquency. Unemployed people are frequently bored, and their quality of life suffers as a result. Arguing for boredom is an irrational rejection of the advances humans have made.

You Decide

  1. Do you enjoy your own company?
  2. What would be the most boring possible way to spend an hour of your life?

Activities

  1. Sit in silence for 15 minutes. When you are done, write down your train of thought from those minutes.
  2. Imagine a day where you are not allowed to look at a screen, read a book or listen to music. Write 500 words on what you would do.

Some People Say...

“Only boring people get bored.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Would hours of boredom really improve my life?
Perhaps! You may find that while supposedly doing ‘nothing’, you are, in fact, coming up with some great ideas. J.K. Rowling thought of the idea for Harry Potter while sitting alone on a delayed train from Manchester to London. The next great invention may be waiting to burst out of your brain. But you are unlikely to discover it while scrolling through Facebook or watching TV.
I get bored often. What should I do?
Buzzfeed suggests 17 things to do when you are bored. They include sending postcards to your long-distance friends, doing a puzzle, rearranging your bookshelf, trying your hand at origami and making lists. But, according to Eva Hoffman, the best way to deal with boredom is just to relax into it, and see where your mind takes you.

Word Watch

Television
A report published in July last year revealed that adults in the United States devoted, on average, 10 hours and 39 minutes to staring at a screen each day. These long periods of physical inactivity have been linked to increasing rates of obesity and diabetes.
How to be Bored
Written by Eva Hoffman, published by Macmillan in 2016.
Technology
Of technology, Hoffman says ‘I think we are massively addicted to it and it’s very difficult for us to step away from our devices.’ She has identified a ‘runner’s high’ that we get from receiving likes or comments on Facebook or Twitter.
Electric shock
One man found it so hard to cope with boredom that he gave himself 190 electric shocks to stay entertained.
Angry Birds
After being released in late 2009, Angry Birds became one of the most popular video games in the world. It has been downloaded nearly four billion times across every platform.

Subjects

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