Did we unlearn to be bored?

We are not even fully awake and already grasping our phone to check social media. We are immediately turning on the radio or the television to receive the news to be updated. While we are listening to the latest news we have breakfast.When we leave the house, the first thing we do is getting our phone out of the pocket. In the bus almost everyone remains in a bent posture because of his or her phone use. Even while driving or while waiting at the traffic light we grab our phone. Then we are busy for many hours with work or studies. Now and then we use our phone during the breaks. On the way back the same procedure. After a long working day we sit on the couch and it does not take a second and most of us have their phones in their hands. When Instagram is not exciting anymore, we switch to a very exciting series on Netflix. If our eyes hurt from binging we reply to the not yet answered WhatsApp messages. No matter what situation we are in, we instantly grab our phone. We are on a party and we are alone for a second, guess what we are doing…

We cannot sit on a bench anymore and just stare into space. We do everything to avoid boredom! And we do everything to not seem boring! 

More extreme, we choose physical pain over boredom!

A study was done in which students were supposed to sit 15 min alone in a room. They should do nothing. It was just the student and his or her own thoughts. However, the room was not completely empty; it contained a stun gun. 18 of 42 people, more men than women chose to give themselves at least one shock. “They seem to want to shock themselves out of boredom, so to speak.” (BBC)

The experience of boredom seems so dissatisfying that we try to do everything to avoid it. Boredom causes an unsatisfied thought to pop up in our mind because we have time to deal with our problems. For example if I am studying psychology and I don’t want to deal with the question whether I like the study or not, I would push this thought away. That is what we are usually doing with the thoughts that question our current state of being. We don’t give them a chance to develop and we don’t elaborate on them. There are so many external stimuli in daily life that enhance the pushing away of the unsatisfied thought.

What is boredom good for?

A long time ago I read an article in the newspaper that dealt partly with the function of boredom. One function that was mentioned is that boredom functions like pain. If you feel pain on your body then you know something is wrong with your body. The same happens with boredom but the pain occurs in your brain, simply speaking. If something doesn`t satisfy us then our brain signals this dissatisfaction through boredom. It is an unpleasant thought, which the experiment demonstrated above, so we want to distract this thought by holding our mind busy by distracting it with many external things. Technical devices play a big part of that. 

If we push away the unpleasant thought, it cannot appear on the surface, so that we have no chance to deal with it and find the roots of the problem. That in turn makes us very unhappy in the long run because we are unconsciously not satisfied.

On the other hand if we do push away it for one`s entire life we might avoid the dissatisfaction. 

  • But would it then be a fulfilled life? 
  • Or because we do not let the dissatisfying thought come to the surface we actually prevent depression? 
  • Or because we distract so much from our unsatisfied thoughts it results in high amount of depression rates in teenagers, which is seen nowadays? 

The function of boredom is not just drawing one`s attention to some unsatisfied thought, it also gives you the ability to recharge your mental batteries from your busy and stressful daily life. It gives us the chance to gain a new understanding of past events. In addition it helps us to be creative and to think about ourselves. If you are alone without any external stimulation, think whether you really like doing what you do and if you like to continue that activity in the future. Creativity will also bring us new ideas, which in turn leads to the discovery of new interests. That might result in satisfaction!

To be bored now and then is nothing to be ashamed of

As long as you don’t exaggerate the amount of free time dealing just with yourself and nothing else, it might have an incredible positive affect. However, I have the feeling people are horribly ashamed of being perceived as boring. I mentioned in the beginning that most people in the bus use their phones, people instantly grab their phones when waiting in the waiting room or especially on parties when they suddenly standing alone. If we are alone, it doesn`t matter in which social situation, we want to demonstrate the others “hey I am a busy person”. But all we want to do is to avoid an awkward situation with others and don`t be perceived as boring. You will not be perceived as boring if you start a conversation!!! However, because we constantly use our phone to get out of awkward social situations we lost social skills.

I think many people are doing it including myself because it is very comfortable but we just have to be careful to not lose our “real” social skill in daily life and allow ourselves to be bored sometimes.