Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Why Boredom is Interesting

Boredom, it seems, is good for us: it can allow us more for altruism; and the daydreaming associated with much boredom can be a source of creativity. And yet....if we have too much time on our hands, with time to be bored, maybe we have gone off course in our lives.

So reports Kate Greene in Aeon magazine, summing up what some scientists claim. 

The more commonly heard view is that boredom is negative and leads to such things as overeating, drug abuse, poor work performance, and accidents.

I have often associated boredom with an emotional state, akin to depression, a fear of running out of interesting things to do. It is impossible to imagine people never being bored. Is there such a thing as a teenager or other student who isn't bored some time?

However we define it, boredom is interesting. There are at least two types, maybe more. Situational boredom occurs when a task or environment fails to hold our interest, like staring at a computer screen all day. Existential boredom is much broader: life itself is seen as lacking purpose and meaning.

What is interesting is why we become bored, especially when we are engaged in seemingly exciting activities. The paradox of boredom, Greene says, is that it occurs often among astronauts, explorers, sailors, firefighters, and soldiers. Here, boredom can be a real danger.

In every field, it seems, some downtime is inevitable; we must take the dull along with the exciting.  What about fear? Greene does not mention it in her article. Isn't the fear of not being fully engaged with people or ideas or activities at the root of much boredom?

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