Getting bored might not be so bad after all if you know how to positively channel it.
Just as life returned to a semblance of normalcy, cases of COVID-19 in India began to climb. While we may have occasional outings, most of us are, on the whole, tied to the house. Since a lot of our social activities are reduced, more people are probably experiencing boredom. As psychologists have studied this condition for decades, what insights can they offer?
In a British Psychological Society blog post, writer Emily Reynolds unlocks interesting research nuggets on boredom and provides suggestions on how we can inject vigor and vitality when sadness seems to overwhelm us. . Above all, she urges us to stop relying on our phone to alleviate our boredom. While most people turn to their phones almost on autopilot whenever they have a spare moment, studies indicate that mindless scrolling can actually amplify your boredom.
Then, instead of seeing boredom as something to be dreaded or avoided, take it as an opportunity to introspect. MIT sociologist and psychologist Sherry Turkle argues in her book, Alone together, that we need “calm and loneliness” to deal with our hopes, fears and dreams. Adolescents who build identities need time and space away from others to connect with their inner selves. If we are constantly searching for our phones whenever we have downtime, we are depriving ourselves of a chance to connect and get information about ourselves.
Boredom can also boost our creative energies, writes Reynolds. A study by Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman found that people were more creative after engaging in a tedious task rather than doing something more invigorating. Since boredom can kick-start your innovative side, this might be a great time to hone your skills and explore new hobbies. So, indulge yourself in learning how to play the drums, grow a terrarium, cook sushi or master Jujutsu.
In a penetrating review of the psychological literature on boredom in the The New Yorker, writer Margaret Talbot identifies two factors that can independently contribute to our boredom. When a task lacks meaning or does not engage us, either by being too simple or too demanding, boredom can result. Suppose you don’t like cooking very much, but still offer delicious treats to your family every day. Because feeding your family and hearing their appreciative exclamations makes the activity personal to you, cooking doesn’t have to become a chore. On the other hand, binge-watching a Netflix series doesn’t make sense, but is engaging nonetheless. Ideally, if an activity is both meaningful and engaging, you’ve hit the jackpot.
While some people are fortunate enough to find paid work that meets the twin parameters of being both meaningful and engaging, others may choose hobbies if their job does not meet both of these fronts. So if you find yourself restless and restless on a Sunday afternoon, why not make a quilt for your father’s 60th birthday or volunteer with a local NGO that works to improve the spoken English skills of children in public schools? By choosing activities that harness your strengths and resonate with you, whether on a personal or societal level, your boredom can turn into something that is personally relevant or for social good.
The author blogs at www.arunasankara naryanan.com and his book, Zero Limits: Things Every 20 Something Should Know, will be published by Rupa Publications.