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It’s summertime, and a few days after you put away the schoolbooks, you may hear the dreaded complaint, “I’m bored.” It’s a complaint I always welcomed, because I had found the perfect answer. However, let’s look first at the history of boredom.
Next time one of your children complains about being bored, or you wonder why you have to do the same task over and over again, consider this: You may be bored, but did you know that the very word itself wasn’t even invented until after 1750? Now that’s an interesting fact to keep your boredom at bay!
Think about it: If people were bored back in the 1700s, they had no clue. They might have felt it, but they hadn’t come up with the word to describe it yet, according to Patricia M. Spacks, the author of Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind. But once the concept had a name, it became universal. Children soon pointed it out. Researchers blame it for a number of society’s ills, including drug addiction. Even entertainment is seen as boring, because there’s so much of it to go around. The bottom line, according to Spacks, is that there’s no cure for boredom. You just have to accept it, and know there will be a change for the better soon enough.
The late poet Joseph Brodksy had this depressing thought to offer in a 1989 college commencement: “When hit by boredom, let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom,” he said. “The sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface.” According to some experts, the real trick is to simply get used to monotony. It’s a part of life, even among exciting people. They suggest that you try to experience things in new ways, and not mistakenly assume that only new things are interesting.
That’s all very well, but my perfect cure for the complaint of boredom was to cheerfully say, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that! Here’s a little project you can do” while handing them the tools for accomplishing a chore from the day’s to-do list. My boys learned very early that it was much more fun to choose an activity from the Summer Fun List (a list of good books to read, art projects to try, things to build, games to play, etc.). The key was that once the word “bored” was uttered, there was no taking it back, and the suggested chore had to be completed. Trust me, this works like a charm!
If you feel a little guilty for requiring your children to entertain themselves, or worse, you suffer a bit from the inability to keep yourself happily occupied, I assure you that banishing boredom is a noble goal. Consider these quotes:
“Many hours of solitary occupation and enjoyment, will lead to the development of the highest intellectual and moral traits of character; in fact, his mental resources may be considered entirely unknown and unexplored, who cannot spend his best and happiest hours alone.” (Jacob Abbott, c. 1850)
“Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln never saw a movie, heard a radio, or looked at television. They had loneliness and knew what to do with it. They were not afraid of being lonely because they knew that was when the creative mood in them would work.” (Carl Sandburg)
All creative people know that there’s really no such thing as boredom– it’s just a feeling of dissatisfaction that, if properly channeled, can lead to great work. Don’t be tempted to respond to complaints of boredom by rushing about, providing distractions. Let your children learn how to constructively use time, and they’ll never have to be bored again.