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Has Boredom Been Given a Bad Rap?

By now, you’ve probably heard about how being bored can be bad for your recovery. And I totally agree. There’s also a lot of talk about how being bored means that, basically, you’re a boring person. (Harsh, I know). I get it. Like most, if not all of you, I get bored from time to time. OK, a lot.

But, what if boredom serves a greater purpose – other than to torture us, that is.

Some psychologists suggest that boredom has been with us since the dawn of man; that is essentially stitched into our DNA. Therefore, it is not just a construct of our highly-digitized culture. It may actually serve a purpose. Keep that word in mind: purpose.

And here, we come to the question: has boredom been given a bad rap?

Experiencing boredom just might be evolution’s way of saying, “Get out of the house and be creative.” It may be reminding us that to be human is to be connected to the world. Hence, the importance of the word purpose. As human beings, we need to make sense out of things and we need to feel connected; to feel we have a purpose.

Perhaps a better way of understand boredom is to consider what Norwegian philosopher, Lars Svendsen, has renamed the concept of boredom. In his book A Philosophy of Boredom, Svendsen prefers to use the term “meaning withdrawal” when describing the emotion we all know so well. Basically, when we experience boredom, we’re experiencing a disconnect from the world around us; there’s no meaning at that point in time. And this is how boredom can spur on our creativity.

Peter Toohey, a professor of Greek and Roman studies at the University of Calgary, proposes that situative boredom, like pain, is often for protective reasons, serving to direct us away from “repetitive and predictable experiences” and “situations of entrapment that it would be in our best interest to escape.”

When we look at it again with an evolutionary lens, we see that our brains have gotten larger over time. And all the advantages of having a huge brain come at a high energetic cost; we need more stimulation in order to not feel bored.

Similarly, the reason we get bored is that our brains need exercise. This idea is well-supported by the vast amount of research that suggests cognitive disorders, such as dementia, can actually be staved off by staying mentally active, like doing crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and reading. An often-cited study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that “frequent participation in cognitive activities” was associated with a 33% reduction in Alzheimer’s disease risk.

Besides helping us be creative and reminding us that we need to stay mentally active, boredom may also allow us to better understand ourselves. With our ability to stay constantly connected to others, through technology and social media, we hardly get a moment to ourselves for introspection. This can be a bad thing, not only for us but, for society at large. Imagine a whole bunch of non-self-aware people walking around (it’s already happening).

“For boredom is time’s invasion of your world system. It puts your life into perspective, and the net result is precisely insight and humility,” writes the poet Joseph Brodsky.

Feeling bored? Finding it difficult to stay on track with your recovery? Perhaps you even try to stay too busy so as to not go back to your old ways. Boredom, or it’s opposite, are not healthy states of being. It’s time to reach into your toolbox as well as pick up the phone. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

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