As children, my sister and I learned never to say the phrase, “Mom, I’m bored.” Why? Because being “bored” and complaining about being bored led Mom to pull out the “Bored Bag.” An ingenious invention in parenting, the Bored Bag hung menacingly in the pantry, and was full of slips of paper. If Mom pulled out the Bored Bag, it meant you had to draw a slip of paper and do whatever undesirable chore Mom had written inside. Needless to say, Sister and I quickly learned to entertain ourselves, as to never have to receive a boredom-killer from Mom’s “Bored Bag.”
While at the time I believed this was simply to keep us from complaining, and I think that was probably Mom’s intent (we had way too many toys to be “bored”), I think the dreaded Bored Bag served another purpose. We learned at an early age that we were responsible for our own entertainment. While Mom of course enjoyed spending time with us, our boredom – or conversely, our entertainment, – was something we had control over. We could choose to be happy doing nothing or to be “bored” doing nothing, and to put that in Mom’s hands was not only a little bothersome to her, but painful to us when we found ourselves scrubbing baseboards or sweeping floors.
I bring up the Bored Bag for the reason that I think I – and others – could still use the lesson, long after the Bored Bag has become obsolete.
Like our entertainment, It’s easy to outsource our happiness to those around us. It’s easy to put the burden of cheerfulness on our friends, family, or significant other. If I’m having a bad day, it seems almost automatic to go to a friend with my grievances, expecting to hear a word of encouragement or a funny story to cheer me up. And when she does, great. My mood has improved and life is good. But when she doesn’t, I almost feel gypped. “What the heck?” I think. “Why weren’t you super sun-shiney? Tell me I’m pretty! Remind me of how awesome I am! Do you REALLY expect me to cheer myself up?”
Yes, Taylor. It is your job to cheer yourself up. Oh, right. I’m an adult with responsibility over my own feelings.
It’s easy to forget that we each have our own things going on, our own sets of feelings, mishaps, joys, and thoughts. Some days, things match up. I’m sad, my friend is happy, and he’s able to bring me up. But other days, I’m sad, my friend is sad, my family is stressed, and none of us have the mental capacity to be smiles and sunshine for the other. And that is when I see the unfortunate reality that I myself am responsible for how I feel. It’s not my boyfriend’s job, not my family’s job, not my friends’ job to know when I’m upset and to throw everything aside and ask the right questions and make the right comments to quell my anger/sadness/other icky emotion.
When it comes down to it, we are all responsible for how we choose to interpret the events that happen in our lives and concurrently, the emotions that they give us. Even if it’s subconscious, making someone in our lives responsible for our emotions not only gives that person a heavy, unmanageable burden, but causes us disappointment and frustration when they don’t deliver. It also strains our relationships. It’s hard to keep the peace when you’re expecting them to deliver the world all day, every day, and they can’t possibly keep up.
So while I no longer require or receive the treatment of the “Bored Bag,” I think I could still use the “Sad Bag” or the “Angry Bag or the “Had a Bad Day Bag.” Those would be quite similar to the Bored Bag of old, except for all of the slips of paper would read the same: You’re responsible. And while this at first might seem as bad as scrubbing baseboards, I think it’s a message we all need to hear.