We were discussing whether it would be a good idea for me to join him and his friends on a camping trip -- even though the primary activity would be whitewater kayaking. I'm not a fan of that particular sport... and I'm also recovering from a recent shoulder surgery.
"It's a beautiful area," he said to me. "I'm just afraid you'll get bored."
It was like he'd called me stupid or said I wasn't good at basketball or something. He's supposed to know me better than anyone else -- so how could he suggest such a thing?
Maybe I overreacted. Probably I did. But I have a pretty strong objection to the word "bored." Because when you assume I'll be bored if you don't entertain me, it means you think I can't entertain myself. That I lack leisure skills. That I'm not playful and creative enough to keep myself happy. And that's just mean!
Don't get me wrong! I wasn't always this way. I used to say I was bored sometimes, growing up -- and my mom would ruthlessly respond, "Boring people lead boring lives." It was almost like she would shame me for feeling bored. And I couldn't be more grateful that she did.
There's a big difference between actively entertaining yourself and being entertained. And, sadly, many parents today keep their kids quiet and content through passive entertainment. This is bad, because playfulness isn't a trait your child is born with -- it's a skill they're supposed to acquire during childhood and adolescence.
When you provide continuous entertainment for a child, you're robbing her of a valuable opportunity to discover for herself, "What's something fun I can do? Do I enjoy reading? Coloring? Playing in the garden? Or something else?"
Instead of empowering the child to actively find something that astonishes him, you give him a screen to stare at and swipe his finger across. What happens next time he's bored? He's gained no leisure skills and has not increased his ability to keep himself happy. So he'll probably fuss about being bored, and someone will give him a screen to look at.
And what happens when that child becomes an adult? I'll give you a hint: he won't suddenly, magically be able to entertain himself. He won't suddenly, magically know how to have fun in his free time. Which is why we're seeing such unprecedented numbers of bored and unhappy young adults these days.
But the good news, like I said, is that playfulness is a skill. Whether you're a parent with a boredom-prone child or an adult who hasn't figured out how to make yourself say wow yet, it's not too late to improve.
If you're a parent, stop entertaining your child constantly. Make sure there's at least a little time each day, between soccer practice and school and music lessons, when they are free to explore. When you're taking a plane somewhere or waiting for a bus, let them figure out what they want to do. Limit, but don't necessarily eliminate, their technology use. If they complain about being bored, tell them that boring people lead boring lives -- that boredom is a feeling they can change and control. It can be frustrating sometimes, but the more you practice, the better you get at it.
If you're an adult who wants to become more playful, start with mindfulness. Put your phone in your pocket and use your eyes to look around you. Be childlike -- notice everything. Ask questions. Wonder. What opportunities, resources and people around you could lend themselves to fun? Be silly -- unless you're a celebrity, no one's watching you, anyway. Keep at it, and you'll notice yourself smiling a bit more than usual. Trying more new things and making more eye contact than usual. And finding more and more things that take your breath away.