What if We’re Missing the Point of Boredom?

When kids say they’re bored, how do you respond?

A lot of parents say, “It’s not my job to entertain kids if they’re bored.” Or “If you’re bored, go find something to do.” Or “Boredom breeds creativity—go make up something to do!” While I totally agree with the sentiment behind those statements, I’m beginning to think we’re too quick to tell kids to do something when they’re bored.

In fact, I have a hunch we might just be missing the purpose of boredom altogether.

Here’s what I mean by that. Stick with me here:

The other day, we watched a documentary about the universe with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Sadly, my nerdy crush was a bit duller than I usually find him, but we learned some things nonetheless.

One thing cutie-pie Neil told us is that everything—literally, everything—is made up of mostly empty space. This is true from the macrocosmic level (think of the universe—a whole lot of space), all the way down to the microcosmic level (atoms themselves are mostly empty space).

Space, emptiness, nothingness. My boyfriend Neil would scoff at the capital letters I’m about to use, but it seems clear to me that empty space is part of The Grand Design.

So, design got me thinking about art. Empty space is an important concept in the art world. Usually referred to as “negative space” or “white space,” the empty space around an image is an actual thing. Well, it’s nothing, technically, but a talented artist has an eye for this nothingness and uses it to maximize the impact and beauty of a creation.

And shifting from art to spirituality, let’s take a peek at meditation. Meditation is essentially clearing the mind of all conscious thought—deliberately creating empty space where we normally keep all our “stuff.” The Bahá’í writings describe meditation as the state in which you speak with your own spirit. Similarly to white space in art, the empty space of meditation supports the real work and beauty that’s happening within.

Or something like that.

At any rate, it dawned on me that from the physical reality of science, to the emotional reality of art, to the spiritual reality of meditation, empty space is clearly a significant part of both the known universe and human experience.

Yet, for some reason, we seem to be deathly afraid of empty space in our daily lives. In daily living, empty space = doing nothing. And by doing nothing, I don’t mean sitting on the couch binge-watching Netflix shows. I mean doing nothing. Just sitting and being, not doing anything.

And in our busy, scheduled, productivity-driven, entertainment-oriented society, we aren’t used to that empty space. It’s uncomfortable. When we don’t feel like doing anything, we get anxious, agitated, bummed.

In other words, bored.

Boredom doesn’t mean having nothing to do. No one outside of solitary confinement actually has nothing to do. Boredom is simply the feeling of not wanting to do anything available at the moment.

But maybe that feeling of boredom is trying to tell us something. When nothing sounds interesting, maybe that is, in itself, the point. Maybe “nothing” is exactly we need in that moment.

Perhaps boredom is our body or mind or soul’s way of saying, It’s time for some empty space right now. Maybe when we don’t feel like doing anything, it means we actually need to be doing nothing for a while.

But doing nothing goes against our entire lifestyle. It’s downright unAmerican. Only losers and moochers do nothing.

But doing nothing for a brief time, occasionally, is called balance. Perhaps the point of boredom is to embrace that nothingness to balance out our busyness.

So what if the next time your kids say they’re bored, you encourage them to lean into the nothingness instead of finding something to do? Embrace the empty space. Do nothing. Just be for a bit. 

Maybe they will. Maybe they’ll have a few moments of meditation and reflection. Maybe they’ll sit under a tree and look at the clouds until that agitated feeling goes away. Maybe they’ll contemplate Neil deGrasse Tyson’s undeniable intelligence and charm.

Maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll immediately find something to do and won’t be bored anymore. Either way, boredom will have served its purpose by pointing out and offering an opportunity for empty space.

I think most of our lives could use a little more empty space.

And art.

And meditation.

And Neil deGrasse Tyson.


(Just kidding. I’m happily married.)

Maybe I could use some empty space right now.

Now, now. Hands to yourself, Neil. I am a married woman, after all.
Photo of NDT courtesy of NASA. 

P.S. I love you, Neil!

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

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