Why Being Bored Isn't Necessarily A Bad Thing

Jan 19, 2017
Originally published on January 19, 2017 9:33 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You know, here at MORNING EDITION we like to strive to give you in-depth lively coverage of the news.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Indeed, we hope you are informed and entertained.

GREENE: I mean, the last thing we want to do is bore you. But as NPR's Andrew Limbong reports, being bored might not actually be such a bad thing.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Being bored sucks. Anyone sitting in a waiting room, standing on line at the bank or sitting through some work seminar can relate. For me, it mostly comes at night.

All right, so this is Andrew's go to bed routine.

All right, I'm not really going to make you listen to me try and fall asleep. It's a lot of rustling, a lot of staring at light fixtures and a lot of thinking about my day until I get my computer and...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FRASIER")

LIMBONG: ...Pull up an old episode of "Frasier" that I've seen a bunch of times on Netflix.

So the trick of it is that you don't actually watch it, right? It's just on and you know that it's on, you know that it's there, and then just fall asleep without thinking about anything of consequence, really.

Anything but that uncomfortable feeling of boredom, which I do not like.

EVA HOFFMAN: Well, first of all because we're addicted to the other thing, we're addicted to its, you know, to its counterpoint.

LIMBONG: That's Eva Hoffman, and the counterpoint here is stimulation - checking your phone, scrolling through Facebook, in my case watching a sitcom from the '90s, for Hoffman it was answering email.

HOFFMAN: It started making me feel sort of strangely frayed and dissatisfied after a while. And secondly, I understood that I was actually doing nothing. There is an illusion of doing something, of accomplishing something, but you knew I was simply wasting time.

LIMBONG: So she wrote this book "How To Be Bored." It's a part of a self-help series called The School of Life. And her book is a mixture of the history of leisure and some concrete advice. Start journaling, read a super long book, really savor your morning cup of coffee, Hoffman refers to it as unscripted time. But maybe you don't need another book telling you to stop looking at a screen and go for a walk. The idea has been around for a while. One of Hoffman's references is tech writer Nicholas Carr. Back in 2010, he talked to NPR about his book "The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains."

NICHOLAS CARR: And so the more time we spend surfing and skimming and scanning online and multitasking and processing lots of interruptions, we begin to lose the capability to pay attention, to concentrate, to be contemplative and introspective.

HOFFMAN: We have lost the ability to be with ourselves and to understand how, you know, fruitful and interesting it can be.

LIMBONG: But it's possible to learn, neuroscientists have proven that our brains adapt at a cellular level to whatever we practice. So, really, Eva Hoffman's title - How" To Be Bored" - is a bit cheeky, and she admits that. It's more like how to get comfortable being bored. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAMU THE FUDGEMUNK SONG, "TO RBI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.