Why Do We Get Bored?
A Short Essay

Oday Baddar

 

Let's get the obvious (but not so accurate) answer out of the way: It's natural to get bored from time to time because, well, one can't be having fun every minute of every hour of every day! In a way, boredom is defined in contrast with fun. When we're not having fun, we are bored.

In other words, getting bored is as natural as, say, rain fall. But just because something is meant to happen does not mean we can't understand why, how, and when it happens. Besides, rain does not fall everywhere and in the same amount. So even if we are to accept the fact that the experience of boredom is inevitable, its intensity and duration aren't. And if we can find the main causes, we may be able to shrink its intensity and duration, if not eliminate them altogether. So let's get started with another obvious reason: We get bored when we lead a life that has been imposed upon us.

This is a fact. People naturally value and seek their freedom and the freedom to choose, even if it was only the illusion of freedom. Whenever we are being told what to do; like when parents tell us to clean our rooms and what time we should go to bed, or when teachers tell us which chapter to read and which homework to do, these imposed activities become chores, and no one likes chores. But if I was to get up one day and look at my room and decide it needs a make-over, I would actually get excited and motivated to clean it up and feel rewarded with the sense of accomplishment. And the same can be said if I were to pick up a book of my own liking and start reading it. Totally different experience, if not opposite, than when we are told by others to do these very tasks. As it has been said before: we don't like the idea that we are not in control of our lives.

We can now say, therefore, that the level of freedom is inversely related with boredom. The freer we are, the less boredom we are going to experience. But that's only half of the story. The other half is to figure out what to do with that freedom after we have obtained it. In other words, freedom in and of itself does not lead to happiness, but it is definitely a prerequisite to happiness.


Money Money Money
If Only I Had More!



Some believe that if they only had more money, they would be able to do the things they really want to do, which just so happen to cost money they don't have. My cousin, for example, believes that if she could go shopping every single day and buy whatever she wanted, she would finally become happy. Her brother, too, believes that if he could afford going on a skiing trip to the best resorts in the world every weekend, happiness would be all his. This is, of course, false. Psychologists know it is false from observing the lives of the very rich and wealthy individuals who can afford just about any activity imaginable, including flying into outer space for a few days.

In fact, you might be able to remember this one incredible day when it was all fun all day long, like that day when Alice went out with her friends to have breakfast at her favorite bakery/café, then they all went to the beach and pool and played and swam under a radiant sunny sky until they were exhausted and starving, so they showered and headed out to her most favorite Chinese restaurant in town where they had phenomenal food, just the way she likes it, laughing and carrying on joyful conversations with her best friends. But it wasn't over yet. After that late lunch, they napped at her friend's mansion after they were served dessert and tea. Then they went to the movies and watched an amazing film. After they got out of the movie theater they drove into the city with their windows rolled down to let the cool night breeze comb through their skin, and stopped by Alice's favorite sandwich joint. They all ate and drank and partied and when she had finally gotten home, she was all of a sudden overwhelmed with a meaningless sense of boredom.

And that's exactly how it is with super rich people who can afford to buy whatever they lay their eyes on. Very quickly, the novelty of what they bought wears out and they can't wait to go buy the next gadget. So in the best of scenarios, we can say that having lots and lots of money to buy whatever one wants is really like stuffing a newspaper into your damaged shoe to cover the hole in its heel. It would work for some time, but very soon you must get a new pair.


Purpose
&
Passion



A mother can overcome boredom by realizing that her mission for the next 10 years is to provide care, love, security (food, shelter, clothes, etc.) for her children. She develops a clear purpose of why she gets up every morning and runs errand after another as she juggles between jobs. She can get so busy she doesn't even have time to feel bored. A young saleswoman might set a goal on getting that big promotion promised to whoever shows the highest numbers at the end of the year, and so she develops a clear purpose to compete for that promotion among her colleagues.

Some say that boredom is caused by repetition or routine, but in fact it's the absence of purpose behind that routine that leads to boredom. An Olympian's purpose would be to train for years and years, repeating the same exact exercise till record-breaking perfection, yet she is still immune to boredom because she has a clear purpose - to get that gold medal at the next Olympics. Purpose, when pursued out of free will, can kill boredom like soap kills 99.9% of germs.

Another big boredom assassin, proven to be even more potent than purpose, is passion. That teenager who has dreamed all his life to become a kung fu legend, or that young girl who couldn't sit still in a traditional classroom because she was aching to dance, or that very smart young girl who can only be happy when she is helping others in need... these are the people who have been lucky enough to live in an environment that provided them with the required minimum security (food, clothes, shelter) and the freedom to pursue their passions in life. Unlike purpose, passion has the added benefit of an unstoppable drive for self-actualization. The kung fu legend and the dancer and the mad violinist are not pursuing careers or world recognition. They do what they do because life would be absolutely meaningless if they don't. They can't find happiness, true happiness, unless their passions are being actualized. And when a recognizable passion is present, it annihilates boredom like a sun obliterates darkness.


The Agents of Boredom



To sum up, in order to have a generally boredom-free lifestyle, the first two pre-requisites have to be met, (1) minimum security - as defined above - is provided, and (2) the omnipresence of freedom of choice, even if it was only an illusion. Afterwards, one must either seek, identify, define, or recognize a passion or a long-lasting purpose. When these elements are present, boredom doesn't have a chance!

But in the pursuit of a more perfect system that provides invincible security, mankind erected cities and city walls (today radars and satellites) and devised politico-economic systems to provide ceaseless amenities: water, electricity, telecommunications, and an endless suite of advanced technologies. But in doing so, they have also created the agents of boredom. These agents of boredom are not intentionally designed (as far as we know), but are the byproducts of what has come to be known as the post-modern or post-industrial era that we currently live in.

Without going into a long narration of history, we can say that the sequence of events that led to our modern, exotic city life has also created the illusion to so many of us that we don't really need one another. The average individual today believes he can live on his own by giving his loyalty to a business that, by design, believes in exploitation, not reciprocal loyalty; instead of giving it to a human family that is genetically built on mutual loyalty1. A financial security provided solely by an untrustworthy employer is not true security, which is why and for the first time in human history, we have created a new and widening social plague, namely, homelessness and the looming threat of house evictions. The more sophisticated and modern a country is, the more homeless people there are swarming in its streets (unless government takes socialist measures to prevent it). In smaller towns and villages across the less-developed world, where family ties still trump business ties (i.e. where the tentacles of modernity have not yet fully reached), homelessness is virtually non-existent. After all, no family would throw out one of its members to sleep on the street just because they lost their job and couldn't get a new one soon enough.

Homelessness and home evictions as a statistic or an indicator reveals to us how separated we have become in our post-modern societies. The cold fact is that we have become the loneliest generation in history. That is why when Alice went back home, after having an entire day loaded with endless fun, she was suddenly overwhelmed with boredom. It's because she went back to her single dwelling, where her craving to resume social interaction drove her to get "online" through her phone and computer2. The deadliest agent of boredom, then, is loneliness. We are not biologically designed to live like lone tigers. We need human interaction just as we need food and water. Ask a prisoner, of all the torture methods they had experienced, what the most difficult or painful method they suffered from during their captivity was, and the answer you will almost always hear is: solitary confinement3.

The antibiotic to this agent of boredom is real connections with real people; connections that are deep and inspiring; connections that are built on mutual trust, loyalty, honesty, and love; and certainly not ones that suffocate personal freedom where one side is dictating the other's choices, intentionally or not.

The second most fatal agent of boredom is the incredible amount of spare time resulting from the presence of advanced technology. Machines can produce what we need and want in volumes and speeds unimaginable to our ancestors. Most of us no longer sculpt the tools we need to make anything. Consider, for instance, the value of a greeting card you buy from a shop compared to one that you design and make with your own hands. Which one do you think will be more meaningful to you and to the recipient? Which one would you care more about and want to keep safe? Part of the reason we no longer value materials from clay pots and knives to furniture and cars is because we do not make them any more. We just buy them. As we look around us, we find that our innate creativity, in all its faces, is no longer useful or necessary in our lives. We can buy everything, made by machines or people in slave-like conditions, even food and water. We no longer need to think much, because there are "experts" on TV and in positions of power who can do all the thinking for us. Students no longer need to contemplate, but expect the teacher to spoon-feed them the answers and train them how to pass standardized tests, the most urgent (and increasingly the one and only) goal of today's educational systems. And when we are bombarded with advertisement and entertainment every waking second, we no longer spend time staring into the sky and let our thoughts flow creatively. The truth of the matter is that our post-modern society has unintentionally killed our creativity. Those who still manage to be creative usually lead eccentric lives; meaning, they are the exception! But the good news is that creativity can be regained and sustained by unplugging ourselves from the mental treadmill of apathy, and through soul-searching for our true purpose or passions in life.

But how ideal is it to be able to have security, freedom, human connections, and a purpose or passion? It's hard to say that anyone has achieved all four elements to perfection. But there is a spectrum, and the more we strive for all four, the less boring and the more fulfilling and happy our lives will become. Boredom may prove to be impossible to eradicate, but it can surely be reduced effectively to nil.

 

February 28, 2013


Notes:

  1. ^ For more in-depth analysis on loyalty and human connections, read The Fundamental Theory
  2. .
  3. ^ This is why study after another had found a direct correlation between the number of hours spent online and the level of depression. It's not that internet use in and of itself leads to depression (as some of those studies have suggested). Rather, it's what those long hours online are replacing: real human interaction. Staring at a screen for hours on end, no matter how amusing, does not alter the fact that you are alone. No amount of text-chatting and web-camming can ever replace face to face interaction. Know that words represent only about 7% of the contents of communication, whereas the tone of voice and body language make up the remaining 93%; that's how huge the loss in human interaction is through cyber socializing. You'd think that a web cam would fill that gap, but it doesn't. There is more to human interaction and communication than tone and facial expressions. There is the effect of one's electro-magnetic field on the people around them. You can literally feel someone's presence, and that feeling cannot be sensed through copper wires.

  4. ^ In the biographies of two political prisoners, Yacoub Zayadine and Juliette Saadeh, who have spent many years of their lives in and out of dungeons, solitary confinement was mentioned as the most painful of all torture methods used by their respective ruthless regimes. Also, in the award-winning Argentinean film, The Secret In Their Eyes, the rapist-murderer makes only one request after 25 years of solitary imprisonment: "please... just talk to me." Indeed, research has shown that nothing can break a prisoner's will like solitary confinement.