From The Daniel Island News
Boredom: Is it unhealthy? Is it curable?
By Steve Ferber
Jan 23, 2013 - 8:57:02 AM
Boredom, as a subject of study, may appear to be a frivolous pursuit, but researchers believe that understanding the roots of this everyday emotion – why it exists, and how it can be cured – may provide untold benefits.
The most dramatic gains might be seen in public safety (think: airline pilots), or helping those with ADD and depression (depression and boredom have often been linked). But the field of study may help each of us escape the gripe, and avoid some of life’s major missteps (think: alcohol, drugs, gambling or infidelity).
Is boredom unhealthy? Not according to Dr. John Eastwood, a clinical psychologist at York University in Toronto who was the lead author of a major study on boredom called “The Unengaged Mind.” According to an article written by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie for smithsonianmag.com, boredom can serve as “a kind of early warning system.” The article quotes Eastwood as saying: “Emotions are there to help us react to, register and regulate our response to stimulus from our environment . . .. We don’t usually take it as a warning – but children do, they badger you to get you out of the situation.”
Can boredom boost your creativity? In an article written for guardian.co.uk, Ann Robinson tells us that “The artist Grayson Perry has reportedly spoken of how long periods of boredom in childhood may have enhanced his creativity.” Robinson then quotes Dr. Esther Priyadharshini, a senior lecturer in education at the University of East Anglia, who said: “We can't avoid boredom – it's an inevitable human emotion. We have to accept it as legitimate and find ways it can be harnessed. We all need downtime, away from the constant bombardment of stimulation. There's no need to be in a frenzy of activity at all times . . .. We all need vacant time to mull things over.”
The study of boredom dates back to just the 1930s, and since that time, more than 100 studies have touched on the subject, leading Eastwood and colleagues Alexandra Frischen, Mark Fenske and Daniel Smilek to amass this body of research and develop the first unified theory on boredom. Said Timothy Wilson, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, as quoted in Maria Konnikova’s Boston Globe article: “Boredom is a neglected topic in psychology . . .. There is a lot of research on attention and mind wandering, but [until now], no attempt to bring it together under the topic of boredom per se.”
Eastwood’s analysis draws a direct link between boredom and attention. Explained Eastwood, who was quoted in Robinson’s article for guardian.com.uk: "All instances of boredom involve a failure of attention . . .. And attention is what you are using now to blot out the plethora of stimuli around you while you focus awareness on a given topic."
Is boredom a cousin to disgust?
Why does boredom exist? McRobbie, writing for smithsonianmag.com, sheds some light: “There has to be a reason for boredom and why people suffer it; one theory is that boredom is the evolutionary cousin to disgust. In Toohey’s Boredom: A Living History, the author notes that when writers as far back as Seneca talk about boredom, they often describe it was a kind of nausea or sickness. The title of famous 20th century existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre’s novel about existential boredom was, after all, Nausea. Even now, if someone is bored of something, they’re ‘sick of it’ or ‘fed up’. So if disgust is a mechanism by which humans avoid harmful things, then boredom is an evolutionary response to harmful social situations or even their own descent into depression.”
Feeling bored? Eastwood first tells us what not to do. Robinson, in her piece for guardian.co.uk, quotes Eastwood: "The problem is we've become passive recipients of stimulation . . .. We say, 'I'm bored, so I'll put on the TV or go to a loud movie.' But boredom is like quicksand: the more we thrash around, the quicker we'll sink."
So what’s a person to do? Researchers suggest that the next time you’re bored, first acknowledge the emotion and become more aware of the feeling and its link to attention. Eastwood maintains that we should resist the temptation to immediately resolve the feeling. Watch the mind. Take stock of both of your external environment (your immediate surroundings) and your internal environment (your thoughts at the time). The more aware you are of both, they indicate, the more quickly the boredom will pass.
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