A 'developmental psychologist' was on the radio earlier today, arguing that these days children have far too many activities organised for their holidays and leisure time, and should be left to their own devices rather more, even - perish the thought - allowed to be bored. In my childhood, I'm happy to say, children were generally left to their own devices far more, the adult world and that of childhood being more clearly divided and the place of children in the family rather less central. We children were free to roam to an extent that seems incredible today - and were equally free to experience, as a normal part of life, great tracts of grinding boredom. When activities and outings were organised for us, I generally found them quite bewildering, sometimes frightening and quite often every bit as boring as having nothing to do - but that was probably just me.
Looking back, I'm quite impressed by how much of my time I seem to have devoted to doing nothing and feeling bored stiff. However, I don't regret it: I'm sure blankness and empty tracts of time have their place in forming us, in developing resilience and endurance, and in generating if not creativity, at least the possibility of it, by allowing the mind and imagination to roam at will. I have a feeling too that experiencing plenty of boredom in your early years can immunise you against ever feeling it again to any serious extent. In my adult life I have rarely been bored - certainly not when in any situation under my own control - and any boredom I might feel is always tempered by the sense that, despite appearances, something is happening that is somehow worth paying attention to. My boredom is not the profound, soul-gnawing kind, bordering on depression, in which everything and all possibilities seem weary, flat, stale and unprofitable.
Someone defined boredom as the feeling that everything is a waste of time, and serenity as the feeling that nothing is. Maybe I've achieved serenity then - at least some of the time and in some sense - but if that's the case I have no idea how or why. Perhaps it has something to do with trying to maintain perspective, paying full attention to what is around us, and taking pleasure in small things. Marianne Moore expressed it in three words: 'Humility, concentration, gusto.' These things certainly militate against boredom, but perhaps to develop them we need to have a good grounding in being bored, an early education in the uses of boredom.