The links between Boredom & dopamine

AB Watson

Have you ever found yourself relaxing, with some form of entertainment be it TV, a game or a book and you start to realise that you’re extremely bored? The activity you’re doing to relax and escape your dreary everyday life is completely and totally boring all of a sudden. That has happened to me on numerous occasions, I start to think to myself, why am I wasting my life doing this? A wave flows over me and I feel, not quite existential dread but rather existential boredom.

The feeling of boredom is a luxury, boredom means that you have everything you need. You’re not hungry, uncomfortable or in any immediate danger. Contentment without happiness or stimulation. That is boredom, a feeling we are all too familiar within our modern-day lives. I’m interested in why we get bored when we are doing something we thought we loved or that was entertaining us? There is however a superpower to boredom that we are all missing, that as clear as day once you notice it.

“Boredom is both a warning that we are not doing what we want to be doing and a ‘push’ that motivates us to switch goals and projects.” – Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi

Manoush Zomorodi said that when we are bored it gives our brains time to make sense of the people, events and world we interacted with that day. Boredom is a way to enter into the subconscious and just think. Another fascination of boredom is it can trigger creativity because we seek a dopamine hit. Anything that stimulates your body or mind essentially. Be it scrolling social media, drugs, alcohol, sex, creativity or learning for example. What we might understand is that our dopamine levels can deplete overtime during the day, or week. This is correlated with the ability to hold our attention and willpower.

Scott Barry Kaufman, scientific director of the Imagination Institute said “It’s a misconception that dopamine has to do with our feelings of happiness and pleasure. It’s a molecule that helps influence our expectations.” Dopamine is linked to seeking out novelty.

The US National Institutes of Health written by Erin Bryant observed in a dopamine study of forty people ranging in age that “Increasing dopamine boosted how willing people with low, but not high, dopamine synthesis capacity in the caudate nucleus were to choose more difficult mental tasks.” This means that the more dopamine you have in your brain the more likely you are to engage in challenging tasks. It could be exploring an idea, reading a book, cooking a new meal for the first time. Without a moderate level of dopamine in your system, the cure for boredom might be a destructive or constructive novelty like intoxication or media consumption. The outcome is up to you to decide if your remedy for boredom is healthy or constructive.

“One man’s romantic sunrise is another man’s hangover.” – On Writing Well by William Zinsser

When I’m doing something I think I love and get that hit of existential boredom I stop. I stop what I’m doing and ask myself why am I bored, why am I doing this activity? What benefit am I getting, is it financial, ego or for entertainment? Why are my dopamine levels low? The answer is, what you are doing isn’t stimulating you mentally, you’re not challenging yourself or your potential. So do something about it, realise and become self-aware about what you are doing, and change your situation. Grow, explore and seek out that dopamine whatever your choice. That is unless it’s your day to day job. If that is the case then I say, stick it out and rejoice in a passion or pleasure as soon as you clock out. Because we can’t always be in a state of pure stimulation, even that would turn into another form of existential boredom. Nothing lasts forever, so choose what you spend your dopamine levels on wisely because you only have so much of it in a day. It’s up to you how you spend your days because how we spend our days, is how we spend our lives.