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March 08, 2007

Boredom Studies

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

We've taken note of the happiness debates -- both approvingly (here, here) and skeptically (here) -- before. How happy are we? Why don't we seem to be any happier than we were when life was less prosperous? And what can really be said about happiness anyway? Now comes the news that boredom is being studied too. It has apparently been clearly established that men are more easily bored than women, for instance. Yet what is boredom anyway? Science struggles with the question. A nice passage:

Our culture's obsession with external sources of entertainment -- TV, movies, the Internet, video games -- may also play a role in increasing boredom. "I think there is something about our modern experience of sensory overload where there is not the chance and ability to figure out what your interests, what your passions are," says John Eastwood, a clinical psychologist at York University in Toronto.

It is possible that the roots of boredom lie in a fundamental breakdown in our understanding of what it is we want to do.

Hmmm. I wonder how blog-writing and blog-surfing relate to boredom -- as well as to happiness.



posted by Michael at March 8, 2007


I wonder to what extent boredom is age-related. I recall times when I was a kid and teen when everything bored me. Do I want to listen to the radio? ... nah, nuthin' on now. Do I want to look at a magazine? ... no, can't think of one I wanna read. Etc., etc.

Nowadays I can sit on a plane or in a waiting room for hours with my mind busily churning about this or that. Drives my wife nuts.

It all happened gradually, so I can't peg an age when I didn't have serious boredom episodes. Probably it was when I was in my 30s. But I still get bored from time to time, though not nearly to the extremes when I was 10 or 12.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on March 8, 2007 10:30 AM

Donald may have a point. I am almost never bored anymore, and my 20s were probably the last years of real suffering in that area. I wonder if much of it has to do w/ meaningful work and a sense of control. We haven't much control over our lives (or our minds) as younguns, and while my memory is nowhere near what it once was (and I'm not even 50 yet--yikes!), my mental discipline is much, much greater.

As to the (bad) internet habits, I think the problem comes when I treat the internet like TV or trashy magazines, that one-way thing of consuming. When I'm actively engaged--reading to learn, participating in discussion, writing on my own blog, I am never bored. (Frustrated, yes; bored, no.)

Posted by: communicatrix on March 8, 2007 12:50 PM

Boredom as age-related: I get that. My kids (aged 6) profess excruciating boredom, almost painful by the looks of them. Me? I think I avoid boredom through movement, if nothing else; and that's movement motivated as a shark's is motivated, by fear of death.

I think at some age (I'm 36), I realized every minute counts.

Posted by: Matt Mullenix on March 8, 2007 6:45 PM

Boredom inescapeable...
Boredom is the ground
Wherein our thoughts untraceable
Emerge...then skyward bound.

Posted by: ricpic on March 8, 2007 8:23 PM

Inescapable. Darned spelling!

Posted by: ricpic on March 8, 2007 8:44 PM

Boredom has to do with a lack of a sense of challenge to do something worth doing, I think. School might challenge, somehow, but is so mechanical that it fails on the second part. Kids say, what's the point? And no one there answers well.

Happiness has to do with living your life with balance and grace.

Posted by: handworn on March 10, 2007 8:50 PM

I’m not sure I’ve ever been bored in my whole life, except in situations where I was deprived (usually ‘cause I was caught unawares of how long some waiting or some such might be) of the readily available instruments of intellectual stimulation which our culture provides. You know like books, smart magazines, these days my iPod’s podcasts or perhaps music when out walking or exercising, web info, and so on. These days and for a very, very long time (I dunno, since 4th grade) never go ANYWHERE without something to read, if expected activities fail me or there are gaps. Like never.

Well maybe that isn’t true before I learned to read. Not sure. But since, nope. Unless someone wouldn’t let me read, or I couldn’t figure a way to rig a light that wouldn’t wig out my driving parents on the way up to skiing on winter weekends in grade school, and so on.

Not that reading or listening or film or smart other video watching are the only things I like to do by a very, very, very long shot, but they’re always readily available otherwise bored gap fillers.

It’s a really nice side of an intellectual inclination. You never have to be bored, at least with a modicum of foresight (carry something to read or listen to that you’re interested in – like always).

Now have I been sexually or socially frustrated or hurt or devastated or tied up in knots over these sorts of things or work things and so on and so forth? -- sure. But bored?

Posted by: dougjnn on March 13, 2007 11:18 PM

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