Word-Of-the-Week #823: Boredom

May 14, 2020 by  

Boredoma specific mental state that people find unpleasant: a lack of stimulation.

Have you suffered from a lack of stimulation during the “lockdown”? Has your mental state focused on this being an unpleasant time? Did you ever have a feeling of doom and gloom?

This week features the first half of “BOREDOM MIGHT BE ENGINE OF PRODUCTIVITY by Michael S. Rosenwald of the Washington Post.

“The panic hit her first.

Holed up at home in Queens, with New York City about to be overwhelmed by the novel coronavirus, Yijun Lin worried about her mortality. Doom settled into alarm. Then, as days passed in isolation, a different feeling took hold.

“I began to feel a little bored,” she said.

Lin was uniquely suited to do something productive about it, though. She’s an incoming doctoral student in psychology at the University of Florida, where her adviser is Erin Westgate, one of a handful of scholars in the world who studies boredom and its surprising benefits.

“Are you researching any topic related to covid-19?” she wrote in an email to Westgate, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus. “I feel it is a perfect opportunity to study boredom.”

Westgate agreed, immediately setting off to organize a study. With millions around the world stuck at home and the novelty of watching the entire Netflix inventory waning, boredom scholars, who are actually quite interesting, are scrambling to study a vast petri dish of boredom — young and old, rich and poor, East and West.

“This really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hopefully learn some really important things,” Westgate said.

She won’t have trouble finding subjects. Boredom abounds. In a subreddit devoted to boredom, someone wrote: “Bored while stuck at home and apparently beer and pringles isn’t the answer! What should I try next?” The next day, someone replied: “Try counting the tiles at home! It cured my boredom.”

It’s not just adults. Just ask parents. “My kid is so bored being home he VOLUNTARILY practiced his piano!” a Buffalo man tweeted recently. “One thing I keep telling my 9-year-old,” another tweeted. “Someday you’ll have kids who complain that they’re bored. And you will be able to lay down the best-ever ‘When I was your age . . .’ ”

Boredom was somehow overlooked in psychology for centuries. About a decade ago, Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire in England and author of a not-boring book on boredom, looked into the subject and was startled by how little research had been done.

“That really appealed to me,” she said, fighting a cough while recovering from an apparent case of covid-19. “Boredom isn’t an over studied area like, you know, stress. Before I studied boredom, I studied anger, and that’s been studied so much that it became a bit boring.”

The central question in boredom studies — and the one that makes Westgate and others so anxious to examine boredom within the confines of a pandemic — is the fork in the road that appears when boredom sets in. 

Bored people can take the sit-on-the-couch-and-eat-a-lot-of-Pringles path. Studies have shown that boredom can increase obesity, smoking and crime. Or the idled can take the Isaac Newton approach. During the Great Plague of London in 1665, he used his social distancing time to discover calculus and gravity. 

During a pandemic, Isaac Newton had to work from home, too. He used the time wisely.”

This week’s focus is finding ways to overcome boredom. Can you see how this really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hopefully learn some really important things? Have you spent any time learning a new language? Or a hobby that you have always wanted to master? Did anyone create their own “Treasure Hunt Game” like I wrote about last week to overcome my feelings of boredom? I just cannot accept doom and gloom in my life!

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