Boredom is a Modern Invention - Modern Alternative Mama

Boredom is a Modern Invention

admin September 9, 2011


I truly believe — for the most part — this is true.  Sure, there have always been some people with more time than interests (someone on my Facebook page said “like very rich children” when I posted this thought), but I’d say that in past generations, boredom was pretty rare.  At least, say, my grandparents’ generation and earlier, it was rare.  These days it’s pervasive.  It’s even, in some situations, cool to be bored.

What started me thinking about this originally was watching my children play one morning.  I bought them a pack of felt squares and encouraged them to lay them on the floor and walk on them, like a path.  They used to do this with their toy bins, which involved dumping all the toys everywhere daily, and I was worried they’d break the plastic bins.  Hence, the felt.

But they don’t only use the felt for making a path.  They also lay them on the table and practice counting.  They rolled them up and pressed a large sheet of paper into use as an “oven” and pretended to bake bread.  They wore them as hats.  They separated them by color and practiced naming colors.  They used them as “skates” on the kitchen floor.  They pretended to clean with them.  There’s nothing these felt squares can’t do or be.

I was also watching an old episode of Friends the other night.  They were at a beach house and it was raining (end of the third season, I believe).  All the adults were whining, “I’m bored.”  I honestly thought…bored?  Why?  I couldn’t imagine a situation in which I couldn’t find something to do — a game to play, work to do, someone to talk to, etc.  There were 5 of them in that house at the time (and they do ultimately find a game to play).  But why sit around and complain of boredom?  Why not do something with your time?

Boredom is Modern

We have so many conveniences now that we don’t have to do very many things anymore.  We wash our clothes in a washer and dry them in a dryer — we don’t have to wring them out or hang them up anymore.  We can even take them to someone else and pay them to wash, dry, and fold our clothes for us, if we’re so inclined.  We don’t have to cook — modern “convenience” foods have made that practically moot.  Even “cooking” has been relegated to combining a few processed ingredients to make a meal; people almost never do true scratch cooking anymore.

Cleaning?  We can hire a maid to come in once a week.  Or, we can just keep it minimal, because who needs to dust or scrub much of anything?

The time we do have is spent on activities like sports (watching or playing), TV, music, and other types of leisure activities.  Most of them are forms of passive entertainment, like watching TV.  We expect others to entertain us.  If the TV doesn’t entertain us, we change the channel.  Heaven forbid there’s nothing on and we have to surf the internet, or read a magazine….

Lack of Creativity

This incredible amount of leisure time and a desire to do as little work as possible (especially when it comes to ‘homemaking’ — many are quite serious about their careers) has led to a total lack of creativity.  Which is why people are bored!

If you expect people to entertain you, or something to entertain you all the time, then you have no idea what to do with yourself should find yourself without a source of entertainment.  What would we do without all our forms of media?!

But look at kids today.  They’re often bored.  They want TV.  They want toys that beep and flash and tell them what to do next.  And we’ve begun to believe they need these things!  They need specially designed toys to stimulate their skills.  They need “brainy baby” type TV.  They need endless activities and lessons, even when they’re under a year old.

Guess what?  Give kids some fabric scraps, wooden blocks, and a bowl and see what they come up with.  You’ll be amazed.

Kids need this.  They need creativity.  They need the chance to play without direction and instruction and without toys that beep and flash and have limited functionality.  They need open-ended toys and open-ended, unstructured time to see what they come up with.  Only this way can they truly learn and become happy, self-sufficient and intelligent people!  (There are even TED talks on this subject.  In the career world they’re looking for creative and innovative people but they’re few and far between.  The way they’re treated as children has a lot to do with that.)

Adults are Bored, Too

The other night my husband told me that when we’re done with all our preserving this year, he’s going to pull all the stuff out of the fridge and freezer (that we preserved) and put it on the shelves that he built in the basement next to all the canned goods, and take a picture.  Then he’s going to make that picture his desktop background: he’s that proud of all the hard work we’ve done!

We’re never bored.

Whenever we have a moment, we have something to do: cooking, preserving, cleaning, playing with or caring for children, talking to each other, blogging, and so on.  There’s always something.  And we take great pride in the work we do to keep our home nice and provide excellent food for our family.  Wednesday night while I had the children at AWANA, Ben spent most of the time cleaning the entire house.

How many adults are like this?  Outside of work, they want to be entertained, too.  Cooking and cleaning are chores they have to do.  (Which, although chores are not exactly anyone’s favorite activity, viewing them as complete drudgery and sighing in annoyance the whole way through is rather immature.)  They lack creativity, they lack pride in their work (at least at home) and they’re often bored.

Depressed, too.  Many adults don’t seem fulfilled by their lives.  They’re always chasing that “something more.”  They don’t learn to be happy with what they have, to be fulfilled by the little pleasures in life.  They just can’t seem to feel satisfied.

Boredom causes that.  Boredom causes people to chase more activities, more people (friends? lovers?), more “stuff,” and so on.  They aren’t satisified.  They’re still bored.  They don’t know why.

Perhaps if we decided to forego more of the modern “stuff” that surrounds us and learn to enjoy and appreciate at least some of the simpler things in life (I’m not suggesting everyone move to a farm and cook everything from scratch the way that we do, but perhaps taking more time off work to play with children, or enjoying card games with friends, or the occasional meal from scratch, or even just a quiet walk through the woods), we would be happier.  We wouldn’t be bored because we would have the mindset that we could always find something to do.

It’s Up to Us

We can’t change this the way we want to change most things: “Someone fix it!  Someone entertain me!”  No, we have to do this ourselvesWe have to decide that we don’t want to be bored anymore, that we will find something to do and become truly interested in what we have to do.  I will never enjoy laundry, but I can feel satisfied that my family has clean clothes to wear.  I won’t enjoy dishes, but I’ll be happy that we have them (clean) to eat my homecooked meals on.

Everything is about attitude and we get to choose it.  We can choose to be bored and frustrated by everything surrounding us, or we can choose to feel positive.  Just like when my kids choose to take my water bottle and pour it all over the room because of some game they’ve developed while I’m off feeding the baby.  I can choose to be angry, or I can choose to marvel at their creativity — and then ask them to clean it up!  (Yes, that really happened, and yes, I handed them towels.)  Attitude is everything, and by choosing to have a positive, interested attitude and choosing to find satisfaction in our lives, we can overcome boredom.

What do you think?  Is boredom pervasive now?  Are YOU ever bored?  How can we change this?

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  1. Brilliant post! A few years ago I came to the realization I was trapped in this type of thinking. I lacked so much creativity and I realized it was my fault I wasn't evolving into the type of person I wanted to be. With just a few changes I'm a new person and love my life. Even though so much of it is consumed with work, chores and daily life around the house I just love how fulfilling it is and I'm never bored! I think you make some incredible observations and will be sharing this post with many. Thank you!


  2. The toy issue is one I struggle with often. My kids don't verbalize boredom, but sometimes their behavior reflects it–household organization sort of relates into it, for me. They don't play with their toys–I'm constantly getting rid of them, because we have too many that nobody plays with. And we don't even have a lot! Not compared to a lot of families. The toys that always make the cut and get to stick around for a few more months: blocks, cars, tools. Simple toys, preferably wood (though the tools are recycled plastic)–I don't buy noisy, light-up toys, and usually eventually donate those sorts of toys that we are given. The kids don't play with the plastic stuff with a million parts–the pieces end up scattered all over the house, lost or chewed up by the dog…they are big and take up lots of space that we don't have…and usually there's not much imagination involved–they are meant to be played with a certain way. Even things like Mr. Potato Head, which I bought thinking it was simple and fun and a 'classic' toy, only made big messes and didn't get played with–they found a new home.

    We can build all sorts of things with blocks…buildings, roads and bridges, skyscrapers to knock down with a 'wrecking ball'…or sometimes the blocks act as play food for a tea party. The cars race, go on 'vacation,' and tow each other around. Sometimes we play cars with playdough and the trucks build houses or transport animals to the zoo. Scraps of fabric and paper act as 'trash' or 'recycling' for the toy trucks. I go through and swap toys out periodically, and I traded our large toy bin in for a smaller one–like your kids, mine liked to just dump the bins out and make a huge mess, so now the mess is a little smaller. 😉 Cam's favorite game now is to dump the bins into one large bin and play 'garbage dump.' Many days we play Candy Land over and over–he loves games and puzzles! Some days all he is interested in playing with is a pair of safety scissors and a newspaper.

    I'm doing another toy purge soon…some things I'll try to sell and other things I'll donate. They're all in good shape, like-new toys that just don't get played with. For Christmas this year I've decided to keep things small, and homemade where possible. They have toys and don't play with them now…so I want to try to encourage the minimalist-approach and keep only what they love and will get a lot of use and fun out of. Toys they can use with a lot of imagination and creativity. In a couple of years they will have real interests and want Lego kits or Playmobil or what have you…for now, they are more entertained with magnet letters stirred vegetable soup–they would rather dump out my kitchen cabinets than play in their playroom. Be gone, clutter!


  3. Excellent! We read this post as a family!


  4. What an insightful post! I agree – boredom is really pervasive. I worry about the kids of today. They are so used to being entertained by tv/internet/nintendo etc that they don't have to use their imagination and make their own fun. I realized a few months back that I needed some hobbies (besides cooking and baking) to unleash my creativity. My mother-in-law is teaching me to knit, and I've learnt to make jewelry. It's so nice to make things! And even more fun to give them away as gifts.


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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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