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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

Bored? Make something beautiful

Instead of simply bumming around when you're feeling bored, try engaging in something more meaningful
The Straits Times - July 7, 2011
By: Gary Hayden
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Bored? Make something beautiful -- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

The English word 'boredom' was first used in the 1852 novel Bleak House by Charles Dickens, or so Wikipedia says.

Before that time, people in the English-speaking world no doubt found certain activities dull and no doubt experienced the feeling we now label boredom.

But they hadn't, until then, reflected much upon it or worried themselves unduly about it.

Now, 160 years later, boredom - or, rather, the avoidance of boredom - is one of the major preoccupations of the developed world.

People nowadays think of boredom as an intolerable evil; something that no one should have to endure.

Pupils demand stimulating and exciting lessons from their teachers; congregations require audio-visuals and pop music to liven up church services; and bus passengers need television programmes to relieve the monotony of their journeys.

This obsession with avoiding boredom has created in us an insatiable desire for entertainment.

We fill our free time and down time with television, radio, magazines, newspapers, the Internet, spectator sports, alcohol, coffee, snacks, gambling, music, video games, shopping sprees, theatre, cinema, social networking sites and so on.

Transient cure

Unfortunately, many of us have become too reliant on these things.

Our first thought when boredom looms is to turn on the television, power up the games console or leaf through a glossy magazine.

We have come to view entertainment as a cure-all for boredom.

American professor of anthropology Peter Stromberg, who also authored Caught In Play: How Entertainment Works On You, said: 'In our society, the opposite of bored is entertained; and more to the point, if we aren't entertained, we're bored.'

In other words, whenever we are bored, we seek entertainment - usually pre-packaged and passive entertainment.

When we are not consuming entertainment, we feel bored.

We have become entertainment junkies - always craving the next fix.

Why is this a bad thing?

Well, because instant, ready-made entertainment is ultimately unsatisfying.

It relieves the immediate problem of situational boredom quite well.

This is the ordinary, everyday boredom we feel when we have to wait in a long queue or sit through a dull lecture, which I discussed in my previous column.

But, generally speaking, instant entertainment does not lead anywhere. It has no point.

Therefore it does nothing to combat the more serious problem of existential boredom: the feeling that life, as a whole, is meaningless and purposeless.

Mere entertainment cannot combat existential boredom.

Only purposeful, meaningful, engaged activity can do that.

Meaningful activities

For example, you can watch sports on television and you can play sports simulations on your computer.

These activities are very well in the proper place.

They are fun and sometimes exciting and pass the time pleasantly.

But they are no substitute for participating in real sport and exercise.

They cannot compare with pitting yourself, heart and sinew, against flesh-and-blood opponents, or mastering new and challenging physical skills.

Similarly, you can plug in your games console, pick up a plastic guitar and 'strum' along with your favourite rock band.

This is great fun - for a while.

But it is no substitute for buying a real guitar, learning some proper chords and riffs, and making live music with friends.

You can leaf through a celebrity magazine and kid yourself that you are peeking into the lives of the rich and famous.

But this does not compare with having a genuine, positive impact on real people's lives - perhaps by doing voluntary work.

Entertainment products offer a quick and easy solution to boredom. But they do not offer an adequate solution.

'Nobody is bored when he is trying to make something that is beautiful, or to discover something that is true.'

American playwright and novelist William Inge (1913-1973)

gary@garyhayden.co.uk

Gary Hayden is a freelance writer who specialises in education, science, philosophy, health, well-being, travel and short fiction.

 

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