Why Boredom is Important: It stimulates action to pursue new goals in life

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AMMAN — Emotions are important to our species as they allow us to survive, but also to interact socially with one another. In theory, humans are capable of approximately 34,000 different emotions. There are as many positive and there are negative emotions. Although negative emotions are often seen as a burden on our mental well-being, they nevertheless play a crucial function in our lives. A common example of this is boredom. Whether it’s a teacher droning on in class, or being stuck at home with nothing to do, everyone has felt bored at some point in their lives. With today’s technological advancements, it is easier than ever to avoid boredom by simply hopping on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media platform. Mobile apps, video games, and YouTube videos all ensure distractions to help us avoid boredom in our day to day lives. اضافة اعلان

Do We Really Hate Boredom?

Hate is a strong word used to express dislike and many use this word to describe boredom. Let’s think about that. When was the last time you were standing in line for something, or stuck in a waiting room and could not help but take out your phone and do stuff on it? This is because our brains are hungry and crave information in almost any form, anything that stimulates it, stimuli. 

Just to show how deep this craving goes and how powerful our minds truly are, numerous studies have been conducted on sensory deprivation. Sensory deprivation is when our senses such as touch, sight, and hearing are deprived of any stimuli. What is truly interesting is that studies on alert individuals undergoing sensory deprivation, reported they experienced hallucinations, and that were especially vivid and emotionally charged. The hallucinations in this instance, was the mind trying to fill the void due to a lack of stimuli.

Applying this principle to a more real-world application, psychologist Timothy Wilson, along with several colleagues from the University of Virginia and Harvard University, set out to investigate people’s willingness to find stimulus at nearly any cost. A series of 11 studies were carried out in 2014 that saw participants have all digital devices taken from them. They were then asked to wait in a room. Participants aged between 18 and 77 years were asked to be alone with their thoughts for between six to 15 minutes. Many participants, even the older age groups, found this period of time unenjoyable and found it hard to concentrate.

After several different studies and the manipulation of different variables, the final study wanted to test how far people would go to not be bored. In this study, the same principles from previous experiments were applied but with one key difference: participants were told there is a button in the room that if pressed would administer an electric shock. After 15 minutes in the room, about 43 percent of participants chose to press that button and get shocked in order to avoid boredom. 

Since then, numerous other studies have been conducted to validate these findings as well as determine which people may be more susceptible. 

Why Do We Hate Boredom?

To understand why people hate boredom, one needs to understand human emotions first. American psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik devoted the majority of his career to understanding and mapping out human emotions. He identified 8 primary emotions within humans: joy, acceptance, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, and anticipation. Each of these emotions can be paired to its polar opposite: joy is the opposite of sadness, acceptance is the opposite of disgust, fear is the opposite of anger, and surprise is the opposite of anticipation. There are varying levels and intensity of each of these primary emotions. For example, anger goes from annoyance to fury. All of these principles put together are what lead to the development of Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions.

(Photo: by Rifaat Al-Nasser on flickr)

This wheel of emotions is one of many tools that are used to help determine how human emotions interact with each other, but Plutchik’s wheel can help us understand why boredom is dreaded. In the wheel, boredom is described as the lesser form of disgust. Consequently, the opposite of boredom is acceptance. In essence, combating boredom requires a level of acceptance. This acceptance can come in the form of accepting the environment you are placed in but taking it a step further can mean that boredom can be combated by accepting the thoughts that go through our heads. Many people find difficulty in accepting negative thoughts, which are generally unpleasant and yet unavoidable when we are left to ponder them. As a result, people will try to avoid thinking altogether in order to avoid the unpleasantry associated with negative thoughts.

What Function Does Boredom Serve?

Despite the negative connotation and stigma surrounding boredom, it is an integral part of healthy development and maintenance of overall well-being. Defining boredom has been a difficult task. Thus far we have been able to describe boredom as it relates to other emotions but understanding the environmental conditions surrounding it is equally important in illustrating its importance. 

One study published in 2013 set out to investigate what boredom truly is and with this understanding, highlight the important function of boredom. This study first established that emotional intensity fades over time meaning that with age or over exposure to repetitive actions, our ability to derive joy quickly dissipates. Alternately, we have boredom to thank for pushing us to pursue goals. Boredom is not unique in this purpose, as we have other negative emotions such as anger and frustration to facilitate this. What makes boredom unique is the environmental conditions surrounding it. In anger, there is typically an identifiable obstacle impeding our path but ultimately the chance to attain our goal still exists. However, in boredom, there is no identifiable obstacle and there is no clear goal except to vary our current experience. As a direct result people will seek new goals and experiences, and indirectly this may cause a person to become more creative in achieving those goals. The effects of boredom can be beneficial to people’s behavior, cognition, experience, and physiology, as boredom acts as a motivator to pursue a new goal. Although these applications are more relatable on the small scale, it can be applied to a larger scale too. Individuals who find their studies or work to be boring should, within reason, listen to their own emotions, and their minds to explore different goals that may stimulate and satisfy them better.

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