As promised, we’re looking at boredom today: the irony and the paradox.
I’ll begin by admitting I don’t remember ever feeling bored. Ever. Maybe I was and have long since forgotten; that’s a possibility. But in general, feeling bored is not something with which I can identify. So I am aware that I have no idea what boredom actually feels like that others face.
Someone defined it as having energy but no place to put it. Does that capture its essence? I do not know.
Years ago, one of my sons announced he was bored, the son about whom I’d often say, “He’s my peace; (the other one) is my spirit.” Turns out I may not have handled his boredom very well. And, except for that brief example, which didn’t go very far, this is a rather boring topic for me, so there’s the irony.
Here’s the paradox: The more I read and think about boredom, the less boring the topic becomes. Lesson learned.
Lucky for me (and you, I hope) “boredom” has recently become quite the research darling, with scientists in genetics, philosophy, and history studying it as well as the more expected psychologists, social psychologists, and sociologists.
Remember when our parents would say, “Don’t fidget.” (Yeah, mine didn’t either, but go with me here.). Turns out the first study of boredom called it “fidgeting.” This 1885 article focused on how restless an audience was during a particular scientific meeting.
As though a measure of the fascination level of this topic, boredom was not studied again for one hundred years, when the Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS) was developed (1986). I’ll not ask you to take the BPS or the more elaborate MSBS (the Multidimensional State Boredom Scale, developed in 2013). Turns out that was a rabbit hole out of which I’ve only recently emerged.
Sunlight. Good. Let’s continue.
The way boredom is being studied currently, it has a host of behavioral, medical, and social consequences. I could find no upside. Researchers have connected it to:
- gambling and other addictions;
- distractibility while driving
- an increase in smoking, drinking, and drugging
- a limited attention span and need for self-reflection
- a search for meaning and frustration and
- feelings of apathy, fatigue, anxiety, ennui, and restlessness.
Who would want to admit to feeling bored?
Still, I’ve felt apathy, restlessness; I’ve been fatigued; I’ve searched for meaning (Might one argue this is exactly what I’m doing here?). Yet, I can’t recall ever acknowledging a feeling of boredom.
A sociology professor I had way-back-when claimed that the way to solve a problem always begins with how it’s defined. Could it be that we all share this physical sensation some dub “boredom” but we just define it differently?
I’m not bored; I’m looking for meaning in my life.
I’m not bored; I’m open to finding a new project.
I’m not bored; I’m sitting still.
“Don’t just do something,” the adage goes. “Sit there.”
Yes, I know it’s backwards. But to me this is a far more useful adage. Think about it; how often do we encourage our children to daydream? How often do we allow ourselves to just sit? Not to meditate; just to sit and do nothing.
So that’s what I came up with. Boredom is the doorway to new ideas, to creativity perhaps, to stepping off that treadmill we call life and giving ourselves a break.
For those of you who want more, I found this NY Times article on “Why trying new things is so hard” by Sendhil Mullainathan, (Professor of Computation and Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and formerly at Harvard and MIT.)
Here’s a quote from his article:
Experimentation is an act of humility, an acknowledgment that there is simply no way of knowing without trying something different.
Here’s to trying something new today. Even if it’s just sitting.
How about you? What’s your take on boredom?