Getting bored is not as boring as it gets, writes Azra Hussain
Even though it is a very uncomfortable feeling, boredom does not affect us much since it comes and goes throughout our lives. It might be an undesirable feeling but it still is a rather trivial emotion when compared to episodes of intense anger and happiness. However, there is an underlying meaning to this seemingly unimportant feeling that we all experience in our day-to-day lives.
Just like boredom, pain, anxiety and anger are extremely uncomfortable emotions, the main differences being their intensity and the stimuli needed to experience them. These feelings are caused when a person is put in immensely stressful situations and environments. Boredom, on the other hand, is caused due to the lack of interest in the outside and inside world. It occurs when we are all alone, by ourselves. This raises a question – is existing in itself not fulfilling enough to keep us happy?
As Arthur Schopenhauer wrote in his work, On the Vanity of Existence, “If life — the craving for which is the very essence of our being — were possessed of any positive intrinsic value, there would be no such thing as boredom at all: mere existence would satisfy us in itself, and we should want for nothing.”
Although Schopenhauer’s statement is backed up by many philosophers and scientists alike, new evidence suggests that might not necessarily be the case.
“Boredom is the most sublime of all human emotions because it expresses the fact that the human spirit – in a certain sense – is greater than the entire universe,” Giacomo Leopardi, Italian poet and philosopher, wrote in a letter to his parents, around 200 years ago. , “Boredom is an expression of a profound despair at not finding anything that can satisfy the soul’s boundless needs.”
Hence, even though on the surface boredom may seem childish, trivial and even rude to admit to feeling in certain situations – it is not boring.
When bored, the average person’s brain activity lowers only by five per cent, which isn’t that big a figure to make much difference. Some interesting changes did show up – for instance, magnetic resonance images of peoples’ brains while they were bored indicated an increase in imaginative activities. These include recalling and perceiving emotions, thinking about hypothetical scenarios, and recollecting memories. This new understanding of boredom and dissatisfaction has led us to the conclusion that boredom is an important source of creativity and identity.
It is a state that makes us think about ourselves, about other people and about the world. It helps us notice and identify things that we may have previously overlooked – a necessary process for our pattern-obsessed brains – and motivates us enough to make a change. It could be possible that boredom combined with curiosity forced the early man to start exploring the world, establishing villages and towns and entire civilizations, and brought us where we are today.
There is, however, an unhealthy side to this seemingly unnecessary emotion. Feeling bored constantly is not healthy, and chronic boredom, if left unchecked, can take the form of some more severe and deadly conditions – clinical depression, anxiety, drug addiction, alcoholism, and poor social skills to name a few. In fact, the National Centre for Drug Abuse and Addiction, USA states that the most common reasons for teenage drug abuse are too much stress, too much spending money, and too much boredom. Scientists report that studying an addict’s level of boredom is the only reliable way to predict whether or not they will stay away from substance abuse.
In order to function normally, the human brain needs stimulation. Not so much that it gets overwhelmed, but a moderate amount, unique to each individual in order to keep them functioning healthily with energized focus. This is what psychologists call ‘flow’. Too little stimulation will cause our brains to act out in hopes of finding someone somewhere to prevent something worse from happening. Our brains are thaasophobic, a phobia of boredom.
Stimulation and activity help in the formation of new brain cells and extend the lives of the cells that are already present in the brain. In order to avoid boredom, the brain might resort to creating its own – hallucinations. Studies have shown that alienation, solitary confinement and sensory deprivation can lead to people hallucinating as well as panicking.
Despite all this, boredom is a key feeling in order to initiate change. Whenever we are bored, we think, analyse and understand enough to give up bad things and start doing good ones. Creatures who feel bored show signs of intelligence, which compels them to do and avoid doing more complicated things, rather than merely eating, drinking, sleeping and procreating. They get into building friendships, apologizing, loving unconditionally, and planning for the future.
Boredom protects us. Monotonous speakers, mind-numbing repetitive routines and sameness aren’t poisonous or dangerous, they are just not stimulating enough. Boredom compels us to new things, fresh stimulation, and when it can be overcome, it is a sign of a healthy, well-functioning mind. Creatures who felt it found themselves doing more and flourishing more which led to more creatures like themselves.
So the next time you are bored, avoid panic. Give yourself a pat on the back and thank your ancestors because the emotion you are feeling will make you a part of a life-improving drive that will push you toward new, better and improved things. Give yourself some time to get away from your usual distractions and get bored. Of course, it will be boring, but it will lead you toward a better life.