Why are People So scared of Boredom?
Why Avoid Boredom
The life of the creative man is lead, directed and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes. – Saul Steinberg
People in today’s digital world can’t stand three things: pain, bad dreams, and boredom! They will do anything and everything to avoid these three monsters. To tell you the truth, in our daddy’s and grand daddy’s time people were never that phobic. It is the increasing levels of comforts we are now surrounded with that makes us avoid even the slightest discomfort. Increasing penetration of ipods, smartphones and Internet in our daily life has drastically changed the way we live and behave. It has reduced our foot mobility to the extent of paralysis, without being medically paralyzed of course! For sure, we live in a pain killer society where pain and discomforts are the privileges of the poor folks.
In as much as someone is a “pain in my neck”, a situation gives me “nightmares” or something “bores me to death” the message is loud and clear: my capacity to handle discomfort is badly compromised so please help me.
To some extent I can understand why people are afraid of pain – because it is painful – and why bad dreams are troublesome – because the nightmares can expose them to the tortures of hell, make people scream and run for life – but I can never understand why an utterly innocent situation, called boredom, is considered so excruciating that someone had to coin the term “bored to death”!
So I began questioning this notion that boredom is such a harmful thing. I strongly suspect that it is another conspiracy of the society to give bad publicity to “boredom” just as it has successfully done to “pain” and “bad dreams”!
Boredom and Digital Lifestyle
People in the poor countries are simply too busy fighting for survival to have the luxury of boredom. But people in developed societies are past that phase and have too much spare time. Therefore, how to fill (or kill) that time is a real problem. Fortunately for them, internet and communication technology provides facilities to fill every slot of free time day or night. So they keep themselves constantly busy with cell phones and Internet. In fact, they are often so busy that they can’t tell you what actually they are doing!
The addiction to social media sites, emails, smart phones, ipods is so absorbing that even a few seconds without them seems killing – this empty space is called “boredom” these days. Consequently, sooner than later the fear of boredom begins to drive them to always keep going, regardless of whether the activity is meaningful or adds any quality to life. This manic desire for action manifests itself in different ways and has given birth to another category of addicts – people addicted to net surfing and social media sites and those who talk endlessly on cell phone.
The obsession to fill every fraction of time with one trivia or another is also making the fear of boredom bigger. For many, staying away from “being busy” even for few moments is an impossible task. The boredom we face today is not the “how to keep busy” type. On the contrary, the plethora of choices to remain occupied often confuses and paralyzes us. The boredom that afflicts us today is “nothing excites me anymore” type or “everything is too dull” type. It is a direct result of living with too many quick-fixes and trivial excitements. It is literally like a dose of caffeine that gives a spike of stimulus and then we plunge back into gloom. So, we are always ready and looking for a dose of stimulus to “feel better”.
As a result, we go shopping, eat out at different places, or buy a newest cell phone model just to be rewarded with an immediate “high”. Every time we do such things our brain releases a dose of “feel good” chemicals and reinforces the habit of looking for “quick highs”. Without our knowing we are already in an “excitement followed by gloom” trap – and call this gloom ‘boredom.’
Activities such as spending time in nature, playing outdoor games, visiting museum or zoo, sharing and enjoying with family and friends, playing with children, reading stories for them before bedtime are all becoming “good things of the past” for most tech-addicts. Next generation might find them in the history books!!
In The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche explains how a true thinker and a mindless worker view boredom. He says, “They [thinkers] actually require a lot of boredom if their work is to succeed. For thinkers and all sensitive spirits, boredom is that disagreeable ‘windless calm’ of the soul that precedes a happy voyage and cheerful winds. They have to bear it and must wait for its effect on them. Precisely this is what lesser natures cannot achieve by any means.”
Boredom often goes with a naturally impulsive mindset among people who are constantly looking for new experiences. For these people, the steady path of life just isn’t enough of a rollercoaster to hold their attention. The world is chronically under-stimulating for them. In the tech-driven society we are always overly stimulated. We are like on a kind of treadmill – we keep on expecting quicker and easier ways to revive our curiosity.
The very fact that boredom is a daily experience suggests it should be doing something useful. Feelings like fear help us avoid danger. So, what does boredom achieve?
It can unleash creativity in intellectuals and thinkers. When there is no external stimulation, they look internally. For them boredom is the portal to creativity, something like a springboard, or a carving out space in the mind for ideas to enter. It is the period of time when ideas are consciously or subconsciously hatched into vision. It is also a silent communication from the mind about the hurdles to realize your potentials, provided that you allow yourself to listen.
This is why people sit in meditation so that they can listen to the inner voice that is only audible in silence. This is where intuition manifests and novel ideas are born. Therefore, next time when you have some spare moments stay face to face with the emptiness that is wrongly labelled boredom or ennui; it can also be rich in relaxation and freshness.
Boredom and Meditation
Following are the words of great Yoga Master, Osho. He underscores the importance of overcoming boredom which is the biggest hurdle for any meditator.
“Boredom has been used as a technique, it is a device in meditation. In Zen, boredom is used as a device: you are bored to death, and you are not allowed to escape. You are not to go outside, you are not to entertain yourself, you are not to do, you are not to talk, and you are not to read novels and detective stories. No thrill. No possibility to escape anywhere.
What exactly is meditation? Facing boredom is meditation. What does a meditator go on doing? Sitting silently, looking at his own navel, or watching his breathing, do you think he is being entertained by these things? He is utterly bored!
The whole effort in meditation is this: be bored but don’t escape from it; and keep alert, because if you fall asleep you have escaped. Keep alert! Watch it, witness it. If it is there, then it is there. It has to be looked into, to the very core of it.”
Therefore, as long as you don’t develop familiarity with boredom, it will remain a problem for you. The only correct way to handle boredom is to face it and see it as an opportunity for growth. If you give in to boredom, it can also push you on the road to comfort-eating, smoking, drinking or consuming drugs.
Boredom stops us ploughing the same old furrow, and pushes us to try to seek new goals or explore new territories or ideas. Without boredom, humans would not have the taste for adventure and exploration that makes us unique. Given this benefit, we shouldn’t try avoiding boredom when it hits us. Fiddling with smartphone may relieve immediate tedium but it shuts the doors for unexpected opportunities.
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