Experts say there is no consensus on the definition of boredom, but that more and more people are finding value in it, leaving behind their pre-pandemic pace of frantic activity.
Boredom, neuroscientists say, is “good for your health”, not to mention your psychological well-being, psychologists say.
In an interview with Haaretz, Israeli psychologist Gadi On attempts to frame it philosophically: “You don’t feel important within life, and you don’t find the activity you engage in to be meaningful to you. If that persists, we call it existential boredom.”
Gadi thinks boredom is a beneficial side effect of living, and that it needs to be cherished.
Gadi advises his kids boredom is not something terrible: “We don’t teach our children to sit quietly, with themselves. They don’t see us doing that, either. But that’s what needs to be done when things are boring: to be bored and look out at the world.”
The modern world places much importance on being busy, of always having something to do or something to look at or to occupy ourselves with.
A VICE article notes “Busyness is not only about packing each day with as much as possible, but also the value placed on doing so: Being busy makes people feel good about themselves, and they use busyness, voluntarily, to signal their worth to others.”
But busyness cannot dissipate On’s ‘existential boredom,’ and people are starting to think that boredom is something good for you.
Roger Kneebone, writing at the Lancet, says his days as a medical student used to be filled with boring, repetitive tasks that he initially failed to see the purpose of.
Kneebone writes that he later realised these tasks eventually made him a better medical professional: “Yet all those boring hours paid off in unexpected ways. As a medical student and a junior hospital doctor, not only did I become good at taking blood, re-siting drips, and inserting lines, but I also learned to take responsibility for accurate labelling and for ensuring that specimens went to the right place.
“More importantly still, I learned how to establish a rapport with frightened people, to do painful procedures, and relate to sick people of whose care I was a part. In other words, I learned the skills of becoming a doctor.”
Kneebone also gives examples of other professionals that benefit from boring, repetitive tasks, such as a stone carver tasked for six months with creating “a horizontal surface in a block of marble—only to be told by his tutor to spend the next six months creating a vertical one,” or a tailor that spent months just making pocket flaps.
Kneebone writes that “In the process they learned to use tools, understand the materials they worked with, and recognise good workmanship. And for them too, this was their initiation into a community of craftsmen. Even more importantly, perhaps, they learned to cope with boredom itself—with the need to carry out repetitive, unglamorous tasks without becoming restless or resentful.”
David Sbarra, a clinical psychologist, writes in Vox about how he felt as if he were in a hamster wheel, always going, never pausing: “Busyness devoured my values. I was working, parenting, loving, emailing, and exercising in a sort of mindless way, just doing and doing.
“Busyness is not, nor was it ever, a guiding principle in my life.
“Yet, I had let the inertia of doing take deep root without realising what was happening to me. To get more out of life — more meaning, more joie de vivre — I needed to start doing less and to become more conscious about my choices.”
The Israeli psychologist Gadi On proposes that whenever we feel boredom, we stay with it, even though it may not be easy or pleasant to do so. He says he resists the urge to take out his smartphone in grocery store lines to avoid self-distraction, welcoming boredom with an open mind:
“In the past, waiting in line was part of life. Sitting and staring. Today it seems to me that we have lost that ability, instantly we take out the screen – boredom is no longer part of our life as it used to be, it’s something that needs to be erased from life, and I don’t want to do that. I want to feel this thing without being frightened of it. Without it crushing me under it.”
THUMBNAIL PHOTO: Ennui, print, Robert Seymour (MET, 1971.564.28), hand-colored lithograph from 20 November 1829. Collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
HEADLINE PHOTO: I was so bored! by r.f.m II/Flicker via Wikimedia Commons
Source: TRTWorld and agencies