Monday 19 November 2012


BOREDOM:  What  does  it  really  do  to  us?

 The white background behind some of the text is merely an anomaly in the printing.

Boredom is an emotional state experienced when we are left without anything in particular to do and we are not interested in what we are doing. There are two kinds of boredom, both of which involve problems of engagement of attention. These include times when we are prevented from engaging in some wanted activity and have no alternative activity planned or when we are simply unable, to maintain interest in any activity or spectacle that we are involved in or watching.  As an example, if we want to watch a parade and have scheduled the parade as the event that we are going to utilize our time with and can’t attend it and we haven’t planned an alternative event to attend or participate in, then we will be bored. Further, if we do attend the parade and find that it hasn’t met with our expectations, then we will be bored until we find something else to do that is to our liking.

I remember years ago when I was visiting two friends unannounced on two different days and when they saw me at their doors, they both told me that they were glad to see me because they were bored doing nothing.  

Although boredom is often viewed as a trivial and mild irritant; being prone to being bored has been linked to a very diverse range of possible psychological, physical, educational, and social problems. In can create symptoms of anxiety, worry and lethargy. Boredom is a condition characterized by the perception of one's environment and activity as being dull, tedious, and lacking in stimulation of any kind. We can even become bored when we watch a television show that offers us no stimulation whatsoever. Without stimulus of any kind, we are confronted with nothingness, the meaninglessness of existence, and we subsequently experience anxiety. Profound boredom is like drifting here and there in a thick fog not knowing where we are at or where we are going. Boredom can be a form of learned helplessness which is a phenomenon closely related to depression.

A common passive way to escape boredom is to go to bed and sleep away the time or alternatively, relax in a comfortable sofa chair and daydream about past happy times or have creative thoughts in your mind.

In a school environment, a common cause of boredom is lack of understanding the lesson. For instance, if you are not intently following what you are being taught or you don’t understand what you are being taught, the session will usually be boring to you. Alternatively, when something that is too easily understood, or is too simple, it too can also be boring. Boredom is often inversely related to learning, and in school it may be a sign that a student is not challenged enough, or too challenged.

Mark Fenske, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Guelph said, “Boredom is associated with very serious problems: depression [and]  problems with work productivity.”

Many years ago, I applied for a job in a small factory in which the human resources person interviewing me said that based on my past achievments, I would be bored to death working in that particular factory. He gave me two reasons. The first was that the job involved me doing repetitive work on a line. He also said that most of the people on the line didn’t speak English. He was quite right.  I would be bored to death working in that factory.

I used to be the lighting director of a theatre group and even won a prize for lighting up a set during various acts in a particular play. When I applied for a job in a television station working with the lights of the stages, the human resources man said that I would merely be given the job of adjusting the lights and changing the filters under the direction of the lighting director and as such, I would be too bored doing the work. He too was right. I withdrew my application.

We can also be bored to death. In 2010, researchers at University College London analyzed questionnaires that were undertaken in the late 1980s that were completed by 7,524 civil servants between the ages of 35 to 55.  It was established upon a follow-up on those who died that those who reported a great deal of boredom were more likely to have died than those who had not reported feeling bored.

People talk about chronically being bored after experiencing some form of trauma. If we experience intense, overwhelming emotions, one way of coping with the bad experience is to numb or to blot out our emotion. When we shut down emotionally, we lose the ability to have desires and for this reason, we need help to guide our way back to having normal feelings again.

Those people who are caught in the fog of boredom complain that the external world fails to engage them. That could be because they have tried to escape that external world that surrounds them and that could be because they are being bullied for example.  Another reason is that they feel that no one wants to talk to them.

I discovered years ago when I was a teenager that there was a way I could escape boredom if I was listenting to someone speaking. I made this discovery on my own. I was attending a church camp in B.C. and every morning, we would be given a lecture on religion. We would be seated on the sand of a beach while listening to the lecture and while I was sitting on the beach, I played with the sand by running my fingers through it. It worked. I heard everything that was being said and participated in the questions being asked.
Years later, I learned that many Japanese businessmen when discussing business topics together; sit around a box that is full of sand and they too run their fingers through it. If you’re listening to a speech or in a meeting and you are bored, try fidgeting or doodling. When I was a child and attending Sunday school, the minister chastised a boy who was fidgeting with his thumbs. The minister didn’t realize that the fidgeting was helping the boy to concentrate on the lesson.  Don’t ask me why this helps because I don’t have an answer but it appears to be helpful in keeping your attention on what you are hearing. Bodily movements such as fidgeting and doodling are ways to increase your arousal, help you to be able to pay attention and help you to be able to participate in the event or so say the scientists.

Studies have shown that in classroom situations, young children who are given toys to fidget with learn better than those who are forced to sit still. Also slight distractions, such as subtle background noise, can help alleviate boredom when tasks are not challenging, research suggests. That is why music is played in the background in some offices. It is used to help the workers concentrate on their work even though their minds are concentrating on two events at the same time; work and music.

It appears to be harder these days to be bored with distractions as our  technology give us the means to be entertained. For example, waiting in line at the bank or a large grocery store is now the moment to play a game or read a book on your tablet, or time to check for email on your phone. This is often a time when you can initiate a conversation with the person behind you. Any of these things will alleviate boredom.  

I hope reading this article hasn’t bored you to death. If it has, be sure to let me know where your funeral is going to be. I will offer your family my condolences.

Of course, you can alleviate your boredom when reading my articles if you place a small sandbox on your desk and run your fingers through the sand.

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