Nurul Islam Laskar
For many of us, our new-found companion during the pandemic has been ennui. Those who are not familiar with the word will ask, “What’s ennui?” Well, ennui is a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement. So, even though the term may not be familiar, yet most of us have lived with ennui for months together ever since the coronavirus pandemic began towards the end of 2019, and, became intense in its onslaught as time passed by.
One of the best ways to understand boredom is as a “desire conundrum” as James Danckert and John D Eastwood discuss in Out of My Skull: The Psychology of Boredom (2020). If you get caught in a desire conundrum, you’ll feel like wanting to do something but not actually doing anything! When our mind is unoccupied and we want to do something, but we can’t figure out what, that’s what boredom is. It is this search for stimulation and engagement that turns boredom into a paradox and transforms idlers into seekers.
In a study published by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, two Pennsylvania State University professors showed more than 100 college students a set of video clips aimed at making them feel bored, elated, distressed, or relaxed. Thereafter, the students were asked to do an experiment in which they were repeatedly given a series of three related words, such as “sore”, “shoulder”, and “sweat”, and, asked them to arrive at a fourth related word, which could be “cold”. This experiment was designed to measure associative thinking, which enables people to make connections between different ideas. The study found that the students who were elated or bored were better at this kind of thinking than those who were distressed or relaxed.
In a subsequent round of the experiment, the professors found that the bored and elated students had greater activation in the right hemisphere of their brains, which is associated with creative thinking. Interesting, isn’t it? Consequently, the professors concluded that it’s possible that being bored leads people to seek meaning and exploration. “This data suggests that the outcomes of feeling bored may be complex,” the authors describe. “For boredom may spark approaching rewarding activities in a broad and explorative manner, rather than merely avoiding tedious activities.”
Now, let’s look at the experiences of Tirtha Gandhi (28), a graphic designer, who was caught in the pandemic’s boredom conundrum. In March 2020, Gandhi picked an overnight bag for a weekend visit from Mumbai to Vadodara in Gujarat to check on her ailing father. About a year has gone by but she hasn’t been able to return to Mumbai. Immediately after her arrival in Vadodara, the first lockdown came into effect in India. Weekdays were spent working remotely. But Sundays made all the difference. She had left her DSLR camera and sketchbooks back in Mumbai. What came to her rescue was the fact that her ancestral home came with a garden. Eventually, she began strolling there, observing trees, butterflies, and birds. In any normal situation, as a practising designer, she would have sketched the garden, but, now, she was so bored that she wanted to do something innovative and challenging. That’s when she turned to origami, recreating the garden’s fruits and flowers, opening up a new vista before her.
So, the next time you’re doing your least favourite part of your job, just try to keep in mind that you might be gearing up for a creative outburst.
(The writer is a motivational speaker and public relations consultant.)