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Boredom Is the Key to Happiness

01/07/2016 10:19 | Updated 01 July 2016
Qi Yang via Getty Images

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When were you last bored? It never happens does it? If you think about it, we have eradicated it from our lives. Boredom is so last century. A recent day trip to the sleepy Kent fishing town of Whitstable is a case in point. Having spent the day strolling around, sampling local beers and eating my own body weight in oysters, I found myself sitting on the shingle beach (not a fan btw - worse than walking on Lego). I have a vast sea that lies before me, the mesmeric crash of waves against the stones and the warm evening sun nestling on the horizon. After a minute or two of this jaw-dropping beauty, I feel a nagging sense of boredom. I'm done with this scene of beauty. I'm over it. Move on! Almost subconsciously, I slip my hand into my pocket, slide out my iPhone and immediately begin to play. An hour passes, during which time I could have been anywhere. I've read the Huffington Post (obviously!), MailOnline, BuzzFeed and BBC News; I've checked my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and email; oh and I've texted my mum, sister and best friend (they are not the same person) and called my colleague.

I realise I'm hooked. I'm a digital junkie. And I'm not the only one, if Apple and Google's share price is anything to go by. Our use of technology mirrors that of an addict getting their hit. Smartphones are the new smoking. The arguments are even the same - "I have to", " I can't help it", "I enjoy it", "I need something to do with my hands". Like a user, it's amazing the sacrifices we are willing to make to get our hit: checking our phone whilst eating with friends, replying to a text message while at the wheel of a car or, worst of all, looking at a Facebook update whilst your child is telling you about their school day. I've seen parents and children in parallel universes walking down the street. Dad on his phone, child in a pushchair, glaring at some shit on an iPad. It's bleak.

So like all drugs, we must curtail it, if not entirely give it up. We need rules about when and where we use technology; that way we control it, rather than it controlling us. Perhaps you put your phone into a basket when you get home, like your keys. If you want to use it, you must deliberately walk over and retrieve it, before putting it back. The proximity of technology - in our pocket, on our wrist, inside our bloody glasses - is part of the problem. I am not addicted to my desktop computer because it lives in a room in my house.

If you do cut back, you will need to be prepared for the withdrawal symptoms obviously. There will be predominantly just one - boredom. That's right. You will feel bored. But boredom is a form of communication with your soul. It's what happens when you stop for a moment and actually feel yourself. In the absence of the digital opiate that is the internet, you will be alive. Emotions are meant to be felt. They are there for a reason and drive us as human beings to ultimately do great things and more importantly be happy. Yes you will not like the feeling of boredom, but you will take that feeling and you will do something with it. You'll go for a walk, fix that wonky shelf or read a book. (Books are ok - that's analogue).

We need this downtime for our psyche. We need to allow ourselves to feel pain, sadness, boredom, indolence. It's part of our emotional ecosystem, which is very good at balancing itself out if you allow it to. Technology is a barrier to this. Our soul is like the weather - you have rain, sun, wind, snow - all the elements. We are using technology to mask these feelings and it's affecting our mental health.

There are parallels in terms of our relationship with food. As well as boredom, we've banished hunger too. Now of course there is food poverty in this country and it's a big problem which needs to be addressed. But our generation very rarely have a moment when we are ravenously hungry. We snack. We graze. And we eat a lot of processed foot that is so high in sugar and fat, it takes forever for our battered digestive systems to process. We're not so much well fed, as bloated.

I would estimate that for 80% of my waking life I've got something in my mouth. Sadly it's very rarely broccoli or kale. It's usually Fox's Party Rings, purely because I like to party. I do remember being hungry. It was in the 80s growing up as a kid. It was usually the time between breakfast and lunch and between lunch and dinner. I remember sitting there at school at midday longing for the dinner lady's signature dish of Toad In The Hole. I came home starving, willing to eat whatever my mum put in front of me. Now my children swing by Costa on their way home, much to the detriment of my credit card. Two decades ago, we didn't have 500 calorie lattes and frappuccinnos to plug the gap. Not only is short term hunger good for the body, as it gives our organs a break, it also makes the food taste so much better once you get it. When I entertain at home, I have a simple instruction for my guests - arrive hungry. It works wonders for how much better my slow-cooked beef stew actually tastes.

And so it goes for our brains and constant input. Windows of time in our day using technology is no bad thing, and of course most of our jobs require it. But where it's within our control - free time, weekends, holidays - there should be parameters. Endless self-help books stress that discipline is the foundation for a happy life and not yielding to every whim. So let the discipline start with a reshaped relationship with technology. It's time to have a Brexit from your smartphone and see what your own imagination can offer up by way of entertainment. That's exactly what I'm going to do, once I've checked my Facebook and eaten some Party Rings.

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