Boredom – another valuable negative emotion

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If someone were to ask you when you were last bored, your first thought might be “I don’t have time to be bored”. If you are a busy working mum like me, your days are filled to the brim and you never cross everything off your to-do list. There is always (at least) one more task to be done. But boredom isn’t really about having nothing to do. It’s about having nothing meaningful to do. And in that sense, boredom can sneak up on you even when your life is busy – perhaps especially if your life is busy.

When our lives are full every day with the tasks that are necessary just to get by, those tasks tend to take on a certain sameness. Every day we get up, we rush around getting ready for work and taking the children to school, we go to work, we come home, we cook, we clean, we take our children to their after-school activities, we supervise homework, and at the end of the day we collapse exhausted into bed. And the next day we do exactly the same. Our lives are full of activity, but empty of novelty, of challenge, of purpose. If this goes on long enough, boredom sinks in – but we don’t experience it as boredom because we’re too busy to be bored, right? Instead we feel frustration, dissatisfaction, even depression. We feel that something is missing from our lives; but then we look at our lives objectively and realise we have so much – our families, home, career etc. – and so we start to wonder if we are the problem, if our sense of frustration and dissatisfaction is, in itself, the problem, something we need just to get over.

When this happens, we need to realise that the dissatisfaction we feel comes from boredom. It’s not that raising our children and balancing career and home life aren’t valuable and rewarding activities; they are. But sometimes we need a bit more; we need change and challenge in our lives. If our lives are filled with trying to stay still and there is no room left for trying to move forward, then we can understand our frustration for what it is – boredom. And, like so many other negative emotions, boredom is our mind’s way of sending us a valuable signal. It’s a signal that our lives are not OK the way they are, that we are neglecting ourselves and our need for challenge and change.

When we are already too busy and constantly exhausted, its natural to assume that taking on new challenges – adding to our existing commitments – is a bad idea. But, done carefully, it might be just what we need to reinject some motivation and energy into our lives. What would you really like to succeed at? Could you negotiate a change in your responsibilities at work to give you a new challenge without having to work longer hours? Can you use the time your children are in their sports club to pursue your own fitness goals? If you help your children with their homework, is that an opportunity for you to learn alongside them?

Life changes constantly. Our circumstances change constantly. If we resist that change, if we fail to see it for the opportunity that it is, we get stuck. We get bored. And eventually we get frustrated and depressed. But, when we embrace that change and adapt to it, we challenge ourselves, and we grow and develop as human beings. And that is intensely rewarding.

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