Bitten by the boredom bug?

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Bitten by the boredom bug?

A feeling experienced by all, but misunderstood by many, boredom has sadly earned the reputation as the harbinger of all ill wills. Deepa Ballal paints a different picture.

If there’s one statement that all mothers dread, it’s this: I am bored, ma. Come holidays, anxious mothers frantically look out for vacation classes/summer camps/winter hobbies, anything that’ll keep the boredom bug at bay. Boredom, for them, is akin to the seasonal flu.

 It’s a common human tendency to get bored. We get bored of our work, our food, our spouse, our life…it is a feeling experienced by all, but misunderstood by many. Depression, suicide, drug addiction, self-mutilation, adultery, have all been
attributed to minds that were too bored. However, the threshold for boredom varies from person to person. Some get bored in the blink of an eye, others dodge the bug for much longer.

Researchers today believe that boredom is not such a bad thing, provided we know how to deal with it. It is a fact of life. Everyone, irrespective of one’s genetic makeup or social standing, experiences this. Some more frequent than others.

Understanding ennui

According to Neel Burton, psychiatrist and teacher at Oxford, boredom is a deeply unpleasant state of “unmet arousal”. The reasons can be internal – often a lack of
imagination, motivation or concentration – or external, such as an absence of environmental stimuli or opportunities. So, while you want to do something stimulating, you find yourself unable to do so. Moreover, you are frustrated by the rising awareness of your inability.

“Simple tasks at work make me bored, so does waiting in a car when I'm stuck in traffic. Similarly, meetings with people, whom I have to meet (not want to meet),” shares Agneta Ladek. 

Having moved to UK a few months back, Manasa Bhat confesses to experiencing a slump in her energy levels. “There are not many people we know here. Also, I used to work back in India and here I'm not working…staying at home makes me feel bored,” she says. Shopping, even for household items, does manage to lift her spirits.

Not that bad, really

Ever wondered why gadgets keep upgrading their features – or dumping a dozen new ones – and there is a beeline of enthusiastic users? Here’s why: The existing features have, in a way, become redundant, or should we say, boring. So who says people don’t benefit from boredom?

Technological advancements thrive, mobile phone giants thrive, because man gets bored with gadgets too soon. Had man been content with Nokia 3210, Apple would have remained a fruit to this day.

Be it Bollywood actors or teachers, their popularity depends on how long they manage to sustain interests and run the show. In his paper, The benefits of boredom, Neel goes on to say that boredom is so unpleasant that we expend considerable resources on preventing or reducing it. The value of the global entertainment industry is poised to top $2 trillion in 2016.

Udupi restaurants in Mumbai and Sarson da Saag in the South, and pizzas all over India would have never made their inroads, had people not got bored with what they were eating for years together and the craving for something different had not surfaced. Why is packing a lunch box still the biggest challenge that every mother faces? Ever thought of a star-shaped chapati or a heart-shaped idly? Thanks to bored kids, moms get creative with serving the old wine in new bottles.

When there is a reunion of old school/college friends, the topics discussed, often, revolve around the professors or teachers, who bored the students so much that they triggered quite a few creative instincts. Some went on to become expert doodlers, caricaturists, poets, writers, while others devised a secret language (quite essential to pass on information in chits when the class was on). Thanks to those boring lectures, we learnt some important survival lessons.

For instance, to look interested despite being bored to death, to maintain a straight face amidst the urge to nod off, and lastly, to master the art of suppressing a yawn.

The biggest challenge

According to Dr Veena Luthra, consultant psychiatrist, people try to distract themselves from boredom by engaging in constant activity. “In the modern world, constant stimulation is available in the form of television, social media, videogames, and it is difficult for most people to pass time without these gadgets,” she says.
Naturally, the lives of kids today revolve around iPads, iPods and TV sets, with them invariably getting bored too fast and too easily.

From prams to cars, one sees the young minds being forced to enjoy life on the screen than watch it pass by. Even while visiting friends for dinner or brunches, kids are usually not keen to make any meaningful conversation. But they do make an effort to seek the wi-fi password from the hosts.

“It doesn’t bother me when my kids are bored. It happens very rarely, as usually there’s so much to do – sports, games, painting, reading books. It is important to actually feel bored sometimes just to have a balance in life,” says Agneta.

Boredom, we may say, is a necessary evil, forcing us to sit back and think for a while, innovate, take stock of things, and maybe, press the pause or restart button of our lives. “Sometimes we are so caught up in doing things on the ‘to do’ list that we don't just sit down and think about life, or about what we want to do,”
maintains Shilpa Deshpande. “In fact, I encourage my kid to just loll around, and figure out what he wants to do with his time, rather than drive him around to various classes and activities,” she adds.

Dr Veena agrees that being bored, definitely, has a positive side, as it forces us to think and reflect on life. It can boost creativity, like in the case of artists and writers, who seek solitude and turn inwards to seek inspiration. “Parents today keep their children constantly busy and these children do not learn to use their imagination or create something out of mundane objects. If your child is complaining of being bored, see if he/she needs affection or attention. But after that encourage the child to find something to do on his/her own,” she says.

However, those who have a persistent feeling of being bored may need help. “They feel empty and have lost interest in everything, and find nothing enjoyable. This could be a sign of depression,” she contends. Similarly, those who constantly seek novelty and stimulation can be drawn to addictive behaviours related to drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping or compulsive eating.

Escaping boredom, fighting boredom or enduring boredom, are all terminologies we use in the war against ennui. But the fact remains that boredom pushes us out of our comfort zones. Of the many chapters in life, crucial are the ones where we have learnt to cope with boredom, for our own good. So, the next time your child says she is bored, you know exactly what to do.

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