It was 12:45 pm on a Friday afternoon, and I was in agony. However, my form of agony was particularly unique, one where time slows down and all hope seems to slip away from grasp. My life was an excerpt from the opening classroom scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. As I looked around at the bleak, desolate faces that surrounded me, I realized I was not alone. Personally, I do not think anyone will truly understand the mental torture that runs through the minds of biology students at the University of Pittsburgh. A notorious “weed-out” class for pre-medicine students, biology often went hand-in-hand with countless hours of studying, a relentless fight with oneself about a personal disinterest in plants, and weeks of stress, all for a grade that was often less than satisfactory. As I sat at my desk, trying with every ounce of my being to stay awake, I began to people-watch throughout the 350-student lecture hall. Normally, L9 of Clapp Hall was not this full. However, students concerned about their grades given the impending finals occupied almost all of the seats. Three rows behind me a small group of maroon baseball hats with Greek lettering could be seen above the many rows of faces. A tall guy with glasses sat in the seventh row quietly joking with his friends. Towards the far left side of the room, a girl blankly stared at the sushi she was eating at an extremely slow rate, poking it occasionally with a chopstick. Disgusted with the idea of sushi and attempting to ignore the smell of seafood, I turned my attention to the front of the room. As usual, the student sitting in the center of the first row had his hand raised, ready to answer another question in an extremely detailed and borderline socially unacceptable manner. Dismayed at the sight that nothing had changed in the past 15 minutes, I checked my cell phone for the fifth time that lecture. It was still only 12:45 pm. With only 5 minutes left in class, I struggled to get myself to focus. Did I care about plants? No. Would I ever care about plants? The chances were slim. Either way, I knew that I would be spending my weekend taking endless notes and practice quizzes in preparation for the upcoming exam. To be honest, the thought of spending one more moment on photosynthesis and the embryonic nature of fruit made me want to cringe in horror.
Throughout my time in college, I have learned a few things about myself. I loved chemistry, was decent at analytical research, and was endlessly bored by General Biology 1 and 2, along with the three-hour labs that often accompanied them. However, I also learned that no matter how much I detested Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 12:00 to 12:50, I would still have to endure them if I wanted to pursue my dream of attending medical school. It was then, as I sat in my biology class, forcing myself to take decent notes, that I realized that I would never overcome this sense of boredom. However, I also realized that in order to succeed, I had two choices: I could spend my time evading boredom, or I could accept it. Of all of the things that I have learned within my freshman year, the most important aspect that I have come to realize is that boredom is not as terrible as it appears. In fact, boredom should be embraced.
Go for the Gold
Every day, people set goals. While they may not concern setting an Olympic record in gymnastic vaulting and can often go unnoticed, goals are set regardless. While most individuals may have more complex long-term goals, almost all people have a mental “to-do” list of tasks they would like to accomplish before the end of the day. For example, the typical goals of a college student the week before finals may include but are not limited to:
- Finish up all assignments that were put off until this week
- Study for upcoming exams
- Remember to allot the majority of funds towards coffee
- Attempt to maintain socially acceptable hygiene standards
- Get a minimum of 3 hours of sleep per night
***Goals 4 and 5 are likely subject to change.
Whether personal goals include finding a cure for cancer or simply waking up in time for an 8 am class, they are a frequent aspect of daily existence. However, it can be difficult to find the motivation and initiative to accomplish these goals. Contrary to many beliefs, boredom can actually be beneficial towards goal-making skills. In the research study, “Is Boredom Proneness Associated with Introspectiveness,” conducted by Gana, Deletang, and Metais from the University of Tours, France, tests have found correlations between high self-focus personalities and boredom proneness. Throughout the study, 154 randomly selected adults took assessments that rated their own personal scores on the Introspectiveness Scale and Boredom Proneness Scale. Results showed that individuals who were especially prone to boredom also showed high levels of introspectiveness and self-focus. High levels of self-focus include the ability to realize one’s own wants and desires, in addition with the goals needed to achieve them. So the next time you are sitting in class or at work, seemingly bored beyond comprehension, remember that boredom is not as negative as many think. Contrary to popular belief, boredom can help you “go for the gold” both in daily life and the long-term. In fact, boredom is positive reinforcement that a person possesses the mental qualities needed to achieve his or her goals.
While many people experience boredom, it is often difficult to describe the feelings or qualities associated with it. Even when a person is successful in pinpointing a way to describe his or her feelings, these descriptions are rarely presented in a positive light. To simplify matters, society’s general perception is that boredom is bad. Here is a list of dictionary definitions that appear when “boredom” is searched:
- Wearied by dullness, tedious repetition, unwelcome attentions, etc.
- A cause of ennui or petty annoyance
- The state of being weary and restless through lack of interest
- A severe disease infecting millions of people all over the world is which they constantly exhibit certain behaviours like lack of movement, construction of various pointless structures, doodling, talking about pointless things, and making definitions on UrbanDictionary.com
Whether “boredom” is searched on Dictionary.com, the Merriem-Webster dictionary, or even Urban Dictionary, it is easy to see that society’s perception of boredom is overwhelmingly negative. However, these same definitions can be reworked to show that boredom is not as problematic as previously believed. The same four definitions are redefined below:
- Wearied by dullness, tedious repetition, unwelcome attentions, etc. This state of weariness is the body’s natural response in order to get the individual to focus on the internal, rather than the external. Weariness, in these cases, serves as a “break” for the human mind to prevent information overload and promote mental health. In addition, this state of thinking allows the conscience to access certain thoughts that were not evident in a state of occupation, allowing an individual to focus on his or her own wants and desires.
- A cause of ennui or petty annoyance; the mind’s way of informing an individual that the action performed is not desirable; a way of letting people know what they do and do not want, encouraging them to go in directions that positively correlate with their desires, rather than oppose them. For example, a person who is bored by the idea of finances and mathematics will most likely not become an accountant.
- The state of being weary and restless through lack of interest; a motivating factor to cause change in one’s lifestyle or current action; a period of time set aside to identify what is truly found to be interesting; a period of introspection in escape from the current action
- A condition affecting millions of people all over the world is which they constantly exhibit certain behaviors like lack of movement, construction of various pointless structures, doodling, and making definitions on UrbanDictionary.com; a period of escape from a daily barrage of information that allows other areas of the human mind to be accessed; a state in which creativity often blossoms and unconventional thought is provoked. As an example, boredom allows an individual to access the creativity to formulate entirely new definitions of words in the English language.
As demonstrated, society’s negative definitions of boredom can be shown to have underlying positive qualities. While a face-value opinion of boredom may have a negative connotation, society could be benefiting from boredom in ways that continually go unobserved. Boredom can offer time for relaxation of the human mind, reevaluation of individual thoughts and desires, motivation to find personal interests, and the proliferation of human creativity. When these benefits exist in a topic previously enshrined in negativity, it becomes easier to realize that boredom is not as negative as society perceives. Perhaps, society is simply thinking of boredom in the wrong way.
ITube, YouTube, WeTube…
In a state of boredom, people often seek ways to alleviate themselves from this state of mind. However, if it were easy to escape this state, boredom would not exist. Therefore, creativity is required in order to alleviate oneself from boredom. An example of creativity sparked by boredom is the variety of YouTube videos posted on the Internet. Before reading any further, watch the first 70 seconds of the following video:
The premise of the video originates from a state of boredom. Jack, the creator of the JacksGap YouTube channel, is shown aimlessly staring at the ceiling in boredom at the beginning of the clip. However, his state of boredom allows him to access the creativity within himself to not only find musical ability in everyday sounds, but also to compile these sounds into musical form through technical editing. Sounds such as a disk popping out of a computer, the click of an iPhone as it is unlocked, and ripping paper out of a notebook were all layered to generate musical content. Creating sophisticated musical soundtracks from simple sounds requires innovation and creativity. However, this creativity would not have been possible without Jack’s initial state of boredom.
SUBURBAN HOUSEHOLD KITCHEN-LATE AFTERNOON
SARAH, a high school student, comes home after a long day of high school and extracurricular activities. She attempts to walk upstairs towards her room but is stopped by her mother when she passes through her neatly organized, 90s-style kitchen. She begins to daydream as her mother speaks.
Hi honey! How was your day at school?
It was okay, I guess. My history quiz seemed to go well, so that’s at least good.
Good. You know you have to keep those grades up for when you apply to colleges next year. Oh, by the way, Pitt sent a letter in the mail. I think we should go to the day for admitted students in two weeks. You need to set up a tour with Case Western too, so call them after dinner, okay? Oh and remind me to tell your father—
Not this again. I told her I would do this stuff yesterday. It’s only junior year. Seriously, woman, calm down. Hmm. Dinner. I could use dinner. That reminds me of that show Mom was watching yesterday where they were making fettucine alfredo. I could use some fettucine alfredo. I’m not feeling meat loaf tonight. Maybe we can go to Olive Garden instead…
—that he needs to drive us into the city to get there. Also, I was talking to my friend Veronica the other day and her daughter was just accepted at Notre Dame. She said to spend a lot of time on your personal essay adding in things they won’t see in your application. I would start writing that next week if I were you—
Essays. Not more essays. Can’t the SAT writing section be enough proof for these people? SATs. College. Professors. Jesus, that’s only a year away. Wait, what is that thing my sister said I’m supposed to use when I schedule? RateMyProfessor…?
—so you’re not overwhelmed down the road. And by the way, before dinner, remind me—
Dinner. That’s right. I’m still hungry. Maybe we could try that new Mexican restaurant that just opened. Eh, maybe I shouldn’t risk it. Who knows if their food is any good.
—that I need to e-mail your brother’s baseball coach and tell him that he can’t come to practice today. He had to leave school early because he had a headache—
Wait, what was she saying? God, this is boring. I hope she doesn’t realize I was tuning her out. Oh well, at least I have things to think about to entertain me in the process…
—but he really wanted to stay for the afternoon assembly, so don’t mention it to him. That’s why I’m going to let him have chocolate ice cream for dessert. Anyway, make sure you get your letters of recommendation—
Food. Again. I’d still rather eat Mexican than meatloaf. After this college lecture is done. They should make RateMyPlate instead of RateMyProfessor. Do they have that? No, I don’t think so. I think they only have one that rates restaurants, not dishes. Hmm. This is a good idea. I could totally make a site like that. Idea of the century. Right here.
—and start getting ideas for your papers. I think you should do the one about a creative idea you’ve had. You’re creative. You have been thinking of ideas, right?
Don’t worry Mom. I think I’ve already got one.
“I Don’t Think it Means What You Think it Means”
Boredom is inevitable. We cannot find everything exciting, and we will always have to do things that we don’t want to do. However, maybe the sense of boredom that we feel from doing these things is not so bad after all. At first, boredom might seem tedious, dull, and unappealing. However, if given a closer look, boredom can help give people a mental break when daily life starts to become overwhelming. It forces people to set aside time to let their mind wander, to think about their thoughts and desires, and set goals to be achieved. It sparks creativity and often allows individuals to think outside the box. Boredom lets people notice things that may go unobserved in the high-paced nature of everyday life. Under all of the negative connotations and attempts at avoiding it, boredom is more positive than it seems. Maybe boredom is not hindering my education in biology, but motivating me to push through it so that I can move on to other subjects. If I was not bored in Biology, I would not have paid so much attention to the people sitting around me in my lecture hall. Without boredom, I would have never noticed the tall guy with glasses in the seventh row, a person who I would eventually call one of my best friends. Yes, maybe that class was about as exciting as a classroom scene straight out of a 1980s teen movie. However, looking into boredom on a deeper level, the times in which people are bored in class, at work, or during rush hour traffic should not be avoided. In fact, those moments should be embraced, allowing people to engage in thoughts that they might not have even considered before. The issue of the matter is not that boredom is negative.
In fact, the issue is that society is looking at boredom in the wrong way.