As I start a new section in entertainment and gaming on this blog, we need to address an issue that is the reason entertainment and gaming exist in the first place: Boredom. Boredom is one of the biggest challenges of our modern life. How often is it that people say that “life is boring right now” or “there is nothing to do”. Getting these thoughts often is a worrying sign in terms of mental health.
People that are easily bored are more likely to develop depression, anxiety, low work performance and poor social skills. It is understandable that people feeling these emotions often are able to become depressed over time. But did you know that there two distinct personalities that are prone to boredom.
The first personality is the impulsive thrill seekers. These people naturally need more stimulants to feel excited. So while regular people might require a regular roller coaster ride, they will search for the fastest roller coaster to feel the same rush of adrenaline. Hence the average day to a thrill seeker is little more boring.
The second type are those who are overly sensitive, these people want to do exciting activities, but because they are more sensitive to pain and punishment. It’s harder for them to go outside their own comfort zone. This leads to a general withdrawal from the world. Leaving them with nothing to do.
Even though boredom can lead to depression, boredom can be a good thing as well in some cases. Think about it in terms of evolution, over the millions of years evolution has been very effective in removing unwanted or unhealthy traits. If you have a trait that is harmful to your chances of survival, that trait dies out over time by natural selection. Now boredom has survived the millions of years of evolution, so one can conclude that there is probably a good survival reason to it. The reason is most likely that boredom motivates us to do something interesting. It makes us curious and more willing to explore new things in life. Without boredom, we would sitting around doing nothing and making no progress in our lives.
So how do we escape boredom?
Well if boredom is defined as the lack of engagement to what task is at hand, then the opposite would be the total engagement towards that task. Just think towards moments that one experiences total joy. It may have been an intense conversation with a friend or while playing an intense sport, that made one lose track of time. It could have also been a time you spend at a concert. It may have also happened when you were in the “zone” while doing a task at hand. The “zone” refers to a state where one is so engaged in the task that everything else seems to be non-existent. All these experiences have one thing in common, they are so engaging that one loses themselves in it.
Now if we take the word Ecstasy’s greek meaning, it would mean to stand outside of oneself. Physiologists have termed this experience of standing outside of oneself as the word “flow”. Flow is achieved when one does a task that is challenging but also is achievable with one’s own skill level. If the task is too challenging for one’s own skill, it is more likely to cause Anxiety. On the other hand, if the task is too easy, it is more likely to cause Boredom because the task is not able to engage the individual completely in the activity.
So a balance of skill and challenge needs to be met in order to avoid boredom. The worst case is if one chooses to do passive tasks that require next to no skill and have no apparent challenge to them, these types of activities cause apathy. Examples of this type of task can be browsing the internet to pass time with no other goal. Research shows that if we achieve the state of flow often, it will lead to better life satisfaction overall.
In one particular study, researchers followed the daily lives of the participants via electronic messaging. At random times of the day the participants would be asked how they are doing and what is the perceived challenge and skill level of the task they are doing. It was discovered that people in flow experienced more happiness, creativity, excitement and motivation throughout their day. This teaches us that we need to keep challenging ourselves in order to live a richer and satisfying life.
Overall if you are bored don’t despair too much. Instead use it as a sign that you need to start exploring new things. Find a new challenging hobby, task or project and try to achieve flow in that activity.