Why Boredom Isn’t So Bad For You

“Boredom is a window and when it’s open, you leave it open and you let things come in.”  

By Joy DiazDecember 23, 2015 9:28 am| ,

Leslie Barker of The Dallas Morning News has wanted to write a story about boredom because she believes that, in order to get quality down time, we need to get bored.

These days though, how can we be bored? There’s always a smartphone to stare at or an online story to read. It’s as though we’re afraid of being alone with our own thoughts, but it turns out, research shows that we are, in fact, afraid.

The more Barker studied the topic and the more experts she talked to, the more interesting boredom became – instead of boring. Peter Toohey, author of “Boredom,” told Barker that he wrote his book after being bored, showing that ultimately may be a link to creativity.

After speaking to Toohey, she forced herself to stare lazily into space, leading Barker to write a song about her findings on boredom. One of the authors mentioned in her song is artist Austin Kleon.

His illustrated book, “The Steal Like An Artist Journal: A Notebook for Creative Kleptomaniacs,” instructs readers to stare at a dot until they get an idea.

“Sometimes people ask me about that word: steal,” Kleon says. “And I say, ‘Well, I use the word steal because I’m not very original’ and that was certainly true with the dot exercise. I stole that from William James, the great psychologist who said that’s what people should do when they’re stuck – they should stare at a dot on the wall. It’s a really old idea that I ripped off.”

Kleon says the phrase ‘Steal Like an Artist’ is typically misattributed to Picasso, who supposedly said “bad artists copy, great artists steal.”

“Really the idea of the book is that a lot of people worry about originality when it comes to creativity,” he says, “and actually, creativity is about being influenced and being influenced in a big way.”

According to Kleon, even ironing your shirts could lead to creative bursts because it’s easy to be influenced.

“What a lot of us don’t do is we don’t take time to be quiet and to let all that information soak into our brain and then let our brain process it,” he says. “What I love about really mundane tasks, it really gives you that time for those things that are already on your mind to kind of come forth.”

Lyrics to the tune of “My Favorite Things” by Leslie Barker

Admitting you’re bored
May sound somewhat smirch
Almost akin to burping in church
But says Peter Toohey, who wrote “Boredom” book
This emotion is fine & deserves a fresh look

One boredom study showed folks are distraught
Would rather be electric-shocked than alone with their thoughts
Artist Austin Kleon says it shouldn’t be abhorred
He gets enlightenment through times he is bored

It needn’t be unpleasant
It needn’t be disgusting
It really should be explored
It can lead to creativity and thus you will see
It’s really OK to be bored.

At SMU, professor Willie Baronet
About boredom & creativity, he echoes “Hooray!”
He wonders when he sees people glued to their phones
Are those more interesting than being alone?

Librarian Ryan Smith isn’t trashing social media
Though prefers his own thoughts to relying on Wikipedia
We need to stop seeing it as an atrocity
Steve Jobs believed boredom led to curiosity

So if your phone breaks
If your signal’s lost
If you feel ignored
Just do something different or write a haiku
Remember it’s OK to be bored.

Listen to the full song in the player above.