The phenomenon of boredom

In a world where there is so much to do and see, why do so many people find themselves bored? We can go to cinema, play video-games, cook new meals, spend time with friends, read a book, text, watch TV… the list is endless! Therefore it seems paradoxical that accessibility to engage in activities is so easy, yet I personally am overwhelmed by the number of people I hear complaining of boredom, one being myself.

John Eastwood, a psychological scientist has defined boredom as “an aversive state of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity”. The question is, why are we unable to engage in enjoyable activity?

I can’t help but think that the huge increase in technology is at fault for the boredom people feel everyday. The problem is that we are overstimulated – on average we spend six to seven hours in front of our phone, tablet, computer and TV screens every day. These fast-paced intense activities cause dopamine to be released, a chemical that makes us feel good. Therefore, when we step away from these machines, we are left unsatisfied and craving more stimulation. It does sound scarily similar to an addiction; that the more we get the more we want, as our tolerance levels build up and more stimulation is needed to make us feel good. Maybe it’s not too soon until social media/technology is classified as an addiction, if not already?

In comparison to high-paced activities are slow-paced ones such as reading, writing, knitting, studying etc. Maybe the fact these are found by many as boring activities is because we are so used to fast ever-changing stimulation. This questions why there are some people who do enjoy these activities, very much. Perhaps they have not exposed themselves to prolonged hours of high-intensity arousal and therefore maintain healthy tolerance levels. Or it’s due to their personalities that entail strong preferences for these hobbies, which are not undermined by the workings of dopamine.

There may be another biological basis to this feeling. Biederman suggests that boredom involves opioids, another chemical in the brain that gives us pleasure. He believes that the way to reduce boredom is to seek new experiences as it is those novel activities which cause opioids to be released. Biederman says “the best way not to be bored is to do what you like doing, typically something you’re good at”, try new things and embark on adventures; both physically and mentally.

The irony is that the very act we tend to crave of using social media and technology in itself makes us more bored by making us more tolerant. According to Biederman, repetition does not stimulate the release of good-feel chemicals but just minimises anxiety. Therefore, the repetitive and constant act of flicking through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or watching TV may inflict boredom itself. Sounding a bit too much like inception now, but it can be derived that we are bored of being bored as everything makes us bored…

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In the long-run, boredom may lead to issues such as binge eating (initially ‘boredom-eating’), gambling problems and alcohol and drug abuse. It ensures we pay less attention and are less motivated, which can damage our performance at work and also cause interpersonal issues. This is especially relevant in occupations such as a lorry-driver where one needs to be very focused (Dahlen et al, 2005). Also worrying is the link found between boredom and lower levels of self-actualisation (Mcleod et al, 1991), which in turn could lower one’s self-esteem further emphasising the lack of motivation to improve the aversive state.

Envision all the different neural circuits in your brain and all the different triggers and chemicals that are released. As human-beings we have so much potential to interpret all kinds of information and solve a huge magnitude of problems thrown at us. I’m sure you’ve heard of the myths that we only use half of our brain’s capacity… what if there is some truth to this? Instead of engaging in the same activities everyday that require the same parts of your brain, try taking up new hobbies and switch up everyday tasks so each time you perform them, they are a bit different from the last, in turn stimulating different areas of your brain. For example, changing your meals each day, going on walks to new areas, taking up a new sport etc.

We have been created as the most intelligent beings on earth, yet we’re using most of our mental energy just surfing the internet for hours every single day. There is so much to do, yet we find ourselves bored attending lectures and spending time with our friends. Ever been in a room full of people only to see most are interacting with their phones rather than each other? Perhaps the stimulation we get from social interaction isn’t enough anymore. Perhaps our identity as social beings is on the downfall. It’s sad that the novelty of reading a great book or painting a beautiful lake is seemingly disappearing. Try to embark in a variety of activities before you’re too dependent on only one kind of stimulation.

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