This article by Juanita Ekekwe of St Margaret's School for Girls, Aberdeen, was highly commended in the Scottish Schools' Young Writer of the Year competition, organised by the SR team
'Is life not a thousand times too short for us to bore ourselves?' This is the
question that German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche asked and now, nearly 200 years later, it seems the world has finally answered.
Life today is a whirlwind of activity. We head straight into the day with the
constant pressure to have, do and become something weighing down on our conscience. We look to the successful in life – the celebrities, businessmen and women, and world leaders – the ones who 'have it all,' and often try to emulate them. Which means being busy. So we jam-pack our days, writing out hectic schedules that we whip out whenever we're asked how we're doing. Leading a busy lifestyle has become a worshipped feat, with society's 'unsuccessful' scorned and shunned. Because of this, most people go through life like a group of mechanical zombies, always moving to the beat of their ringing mobile notifications.
On top of this, today's society demands us to remain socially connected and publicly aware at all times. And technological advances have equipped us with more powerful compact tools to do so. The push of a button can lead to a virtual torrent of information and unlimited access to social media sites (for young and old alike). Moreover, we can now carry these tools with us – whether in our bag, hand or securely strapped to our wrists. They are the perfect portable distractions. This is not sustainable. And it isn't living.
Studies show that being actively busy can lead to better brain power and
quicker reflexes. However, these studies also point towards feeling
overwhelmed, lacking isolation or reflection time. This can cause long-term
damaging effects to your health and body, including stress, anxiety and
exhaustion. Even without the scientific proof, it's clear that no-one is immune to these effects. Secondary school students, for example, march through weeks filled with school, homework and extra-curricular activities. When their two-day respite finally arrives, the majority are so tired that they spend their time catching up on sleep and clearing their muddled minds… with social media. If this is what busy can do to children, how much worse is it for adults?
A common solution parroted time and time again: 'You need to find the right
balance between work and play.' And although this is true, the real answer to solving our fast-paced clockwork lives isn't to the world's liking. It has many names – ennui, accidie, malaise – but we all know the feeling. We all need it. Yet hardly anyone wants it.
Charles Dickens introduced boredom to the world in 1852, with the publication of his novel 'Bleak House' (boredom featuring a total of six times). Obviously this emotional concept goes back further, and records have found (sparse) use of the word in Greek and Roman manuscripts. Roman philosopher, Seneca the Younger, explored boredom in his Epistle 24.26, comparing it to seasickness.
Today we'd describe boredom as a mental vacuum with the power to drive you insane. It is unpleasant, constricting and can be slightly nauseating – in a society that is always doing, never stopping, this isn't a surprise. Boredom has such a strong stigma that we can automatically counter-attack it without asking ourselves the important question: 'Why do I feel this way?'
Boredom must have a purpose. All emotions do. They're said to help us 'react to, register and regulate our response to stimulus from our environment.' Emotions are essentially psychological warning signals that are key to our survival and, in recent years, boredom's value has been unlocked.
In 2014, psychologists Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman of the University of Central Lancashire put boredom to the test. They challenged 80 participants to think of as many uses for two polystyrene cups but, beforehand, one group copied out phone-book numbers for 15 minutes. Results showed that the phone-book group were the most creative, thinking of many more out-of-the-box uses than the control group.
In another study, carried out by researchers Karen Gasper and Brianna Middlewood of Pennsylvania University, participants watched a clip that encouraged feelings of relaxation, elation, distress or boredom. Then participants took the Remote Associates Test – a test of creativity – where they were asked to provide another word based on the unknown connection between three seemingly unrelated words (For example, 'cottage/swiss/ cake' has the solution 'cheese'). Those who were bored scored higher.
It's proven: boredom is a crucial part of any person's life, particularly in those of children and teenagers. Doing nothing can reawaken creative thinking, thought patterns and problem-solving skills that have been lying dormant for years. This is essential for their future and could set them up for more success than a constant busy lifestyle ever could. All we need is for parents to stop employing the world's number one electronic babysitter to fill the mental vacuum 'tormenting' their kids. Simple really.
As well as creativity and innovation, boredom can lead us into a place of peace and calm. At least once today, you will have stopped what you were doing – and felt bored. This boredom will have allowed you to be still and simply take stock of your surroundings, your thoughts and your emotions. This is mindfulness, something becoming increasingly popular and beneficial to a wide range of people. Mindfulness can help our mental wellbeing by alerting us to negative emotions and thoughts earlier on. This can make treating mental health illnesses, such as stress and anxiety, easier and effective. Mindfulness can also help us respond to situations, rather than react in ways that could make them worse.
Across Scotland, 'The Mindfulness in Schools Project' has introduced the '.b,' standing for 'stop and be.' The '.b' involves interactive lessons and talks, designed to engage students and teach them more about their minds and how they work. This work has helped students deal with strong emotions, particularly stress and anxiety during the exam period, and 77% say they would recommend '.b' to a friend or family member.
These are several benefits to being bored out of your mind and, since the
science of boredom has just begun, I'm certain there will be many others.
Boredom when utilised correctly can be a tool greater than technology itself,
enabling us to do more and feel more. Now, I'm not saying you should become a recluse, isolating yourself in order to achieve success. Too much boredom, like too much activity, can be harmful. We're humans. We will always need other things – friends and families, foods, phones and even work – to be happy. But we should never forget boredom in our day-to-day lives. We must embrace it.