The Hedonic Treadmill

One is weary of living in the country and moves to the city; one is weary of one’s native land and goes abroad; one is [weary of Europe] and goes to America etc.; one indulges in the fanatical hope of an endless journey from star to star. Or there is another direction, but still extensive. One is weary of eating on porcelain and eats on silver; wearying of that, one eats on gold; one burns down half of Rome in order to visualize the Trojan conflagration. This method cancels itself and is the spurious infinity.

Søren Kierkegaard, Either / Or

Riding the Wave of Boredom

It turns out that bliss – a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious – lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (tax returns, televised golf), and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Constant bliss in every atom.

David Foster Wallace 

dull activities can spark creative thinking

What if boredom is a meaningful experience—one that propels us to states of deeper thoughtfulness and creativity? That’s the conclusion of two fascinating recent studies. Boredom might spark creativity because a restless mind hungers for stimulation. Maybe traversing an expanse of tedium creates a sort of cognitive forward motion. A bored mind moves into a “daydreaming” state, says Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire.

The problem, the psychologists worry, is that these days we don’t wrestle with these slow moments. We eliminate them (with mobile devices). This might relieve us temporarily, but it shuts down the deeper thinking that can come from staring down the doldrums. Noolding on your phone is “like eating junk food,” she says.

So here’s an idea: Instead of always fleeing boredom, lean into it. Sometimes, anyway. When novelists talk about using Freedom, the software that shuts down one’s Internet connection, they often say it’s about avoiding distraction. But I suspect it’s also about enforcing a level of boredom in their day—useful, productive monotony.

And there is, of course, bad boredom. The good type motivates you to see what can come of it: “fructifying boredom,” as the philosopher Bertrand Russell called it. The bad type, in contrast, tires you, makes you feel like you can’t be bothered to do anything. (It has a name too: lethargic boredom.)

A critical part of our modern task, then, is learning to assess these different flavors of ennui—to distinguish the useful kind from the stultifying. (Glancing at your phone in an idle moment isn’t always, or even often a bad thing.) Boredom, it turns out, may be super-interesting.

Clive Thompson writing in Wired Magazine

Somewhere between boredom and anxiety

A comfortable routine can turn on us, leaving our creativity stifled, dulling us to other possibilities. We become lethargic, sleepwalking through life. Boredom soon nips at our heels.

At the other end of the experience spectrum, we have bungee-jumping thrill seekers. Tired of sexual escapades and rock climbing, they sometimes self-medicate to starve off boredom. Drugs can stimulate many feelings: euphoria, depression, anxiety, even fear. But none induce boredom (though some, like cocaine, can leave the user with a devastating boredom, after the drug has done its thing). Sex, food, drugs, and gambling each stimulate the same dopamine reward pathway in the brain.

Psychologists tell us the cure for chronic tedium is not high-sensation thrills. Somewhere between boredom and anxiety there is a sweet spot called flow. It's an optimal level of arousal. As Dr. Richard Friedman writes:

Flow happens when a person’s skills and talent perfectly match the challenge of an activity: playing in the zone, where there is total and un-self-conscious absorption in the activity. Make the task too challenging and anxiety results; make it too easy and boredom emerges.  Flow get to the heart of fun. It’s not hard to see why the enforced tranquility of a Caribbean vacation could be a dreadful bore for a workaholic but bliss for a couch potato: temperament, as well as talent, have to match the activity or there is trouble in paradise.

Stephen Goforth

Freshening Relationships

Relationships often develop a certain tiresome predictability. You do what you usually do, other people respond the way they usually do, and around it goes. If you reverse course, act in a novel manner, you alter the entire dynamic. Do this every so often to break up the relationship’s stale patterns and open it to new possibilities.

Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War

Freshening Relationships

Relationships often develop a certain tiresome predictability. You do what you usually do, other people respond the way they usually do, and around it goes. If you reverse course, act in a novel manner, you alter the entire dynamic. Do this every so often to break up the relationship’s stale patterns and open it to new possibilities.

Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War

Being Bored Out of Your Mind Makes You More Creative

Boredom might spark creativity because a restless mind hungers for stimulation. Maybe traversing an expanse of tedium creates a sort of cognitive forward motion. “Boredom becomes a seeking state,” says Texas A&M University psychologist Heather Lench. “What you’re doing now is not satisfying. So you’re seeking, you’re engaged.” A bored mind moves into a “daydreaming” state, says Sandi Mann, the psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire who ran the experiment with the cups. Parents will tell you that kids with “nothing to do” will eventually invent some weird, fun game to play—with a cardboard box, a light switch, whatever.

The problem, the psychologists worry, is that these days we don’t wrestle with these slow moments. We eliminate them. “We try to extinguish every moment of boredom in our lives with mobile devices,” says Sandi Mann, psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire. This might relieve us temporarily, but it shuts down the deeper thinking that can come from staring down the doldrums. Noodling on your phone is “like eating junk food,” she says.

So here’s an idea: Instead of always fleeing boredom, lean into it. Sometimes, anyway.

Clive Thompson, Wired

Boredom and Cowardice

Teenagers and their younger siblings grow bored quickly. It's their job to figure out how not to be bored.

Life is filled with dull meetings and duller people and many empty moments. Either you hate a large part of your duties in life or you figure out ways to make that time interesting for you. Boredom is a wake up call for us to get involved in process of life.

As Scott Peck wrote in The Road Less Traveled, "Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs." Embracing what we are handed and then turning it into something worthwhile is a lifelong struggle. We all face it.

It isn't the job of parents to keep children entertained. The kids' job is take charge of their own situation to figure out what captivates them.  Parents just need to provide opportunities for their kids and a sense of direction to help them discover what works.

If we are not in the hunt for the compelling, we are not in the game and will certainly be miserable people. There's no one to blame but ourselves. There are many escape attempts from the dullness of life that can temporarily distract us. It takes something meaningful and awe-filling to engage us over the long run.

Stephen Goforth

the suburb within

You might live in the middle of a big city, but there could still be a white picket fence around your imagination. You can take the subway to work but still park your identity in a two-car garage. This is the inner suburbia, and you probably moved her long ago. You’ve learned to contain your longings and sympathies within a comfortable zone, measures and mediocre. To grow, you must move toward otherness. You must quit the ranch house of your soul and head for the forbidden place—your inner wilderness, inner bohemia, or even your inner inner city. The answer you need lie there, where you are least at home.

Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions

Maintaining

It’s the maintenance of life, the plumbing of life that we sometimes slip into and forget the prose and poetry. It’s easier to make lists, it’s easier to call the plumber, its easier to wonder why the car doesn’t work, and spend our life, worrying about the plumbing. And one day at 50 we wake up and say, “Why is there no juice? Why is there no joy? Why is there no pleasure?”

Roger Fransecky, Apogee Group

what "flow activities" can do for you

Every flow activity, whether it involved competition, chance, or any other dimension of experience, had this in common: It provided a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality. It pushed the person to higher levels of performance, and led to previously undreamed-of states of consciousness. In short, it transformed the self by making it more complex. In this growth of the self lies the key to flow activities.

It is this dynamic feature that explains why flow activities lead to growth and discovery. One cannot enjoy doing the same thing at the same level for long. We grow either bored or frustrated; and then the desire to enjoy ourselves again pushes us to stretch our skills or to discover new opportunities for using them.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Flow

moving away from home

Staying somewhere where you are no longer happy, and doing things that you’ve long ago stopped being surprised or fulfilled by, is never a good thing. Yes, there will be a difficult moment or several during the moving process, but it is at least a step towards taking active change in your life and putting it on a path that you want to see it go. I mean, if you’re at a point in your life where you are legitimately saying you are “over” the “drama” of your group — and you’re not on a reality show — there have to be some changes to make.

In any case, choosing to be somewhere because it’s familiar is a short-term fix to what is certainly a much bigger problem. There is a certain degree of charm that your hometown can take on after a long enough separation, and maybe it will end up proving the right place for you at some later point in your life. But don’t we all owe it to ourselves to explore a bit as an adult, and listen to ourselves when we constantly mutter how unhappy we are? A move is never a guarantee of a better life, but it is a guarantee of doing something you actually want to do, even if it means taking a chance.

Chelsea Fagan writing in Thought Catalog