Open Gently

Musings on the introspective life.

Why People Get Bored

A tendency to boredom is somewhat hard-wired. Fight it.

I hate it when people say, “I never get bored.”

The other phrase I hate is “If you’re bored, you’re boring.”

 I work hard to make conversations and situations as interesting for myself as I can. But if I don’t try, I can lapse into a state very much like being shut up in a room where the air is stale. It feels like my brain can’t breathe or move.  

According to Dr. Irving Biederman, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, my problem involves opioids, a chemical in the brain that gives us pleasure. In fact, the receptors Biederman studies are the same ones that give heroin and morphine their kick. A new experience will stimulate the release of opioids—a wow. The brain is hardwired to seek out more. The human eye fixates on two points a second, looking for stimulation. “Anything less is boring,” says Biederman.

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 But once you’ve had an experience, some neurons essentially take over the job of responding to that piece of data, freeing neighbor neurons for other tasks. A second or third go round won’t give you the same rich opiod hit. Fewer neurons are firing, and it’s been there, done that.

 The system makes the brain efficient, and according to Biederman, it also makes us crave stimulation. Being boredom-prone is somewhat hard-wired.

So just like you thought, those people who tell you they never get bored and you’re boring because you’re bored are telling you about their superiority. 

Perpetually bored people mess up their lives when they drop out of school, change jobs too often or ditch good marriages.

 Some people say they like doing the same thing over and over. Biederman believes that repetition is a way of reducing anxiety. To stoke your inner opioids, keep trying new things, or delve deeper into an area you already know and love, triggering fresh insights. “You can get hits either way,” Biederman says. “The best way not to be bored is to do what you like doing, typically something you’re good at.”

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Temma Ehrenfeld is a New York-based science writer, and former assistant editor at Newsweek.

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