Nothing is interesting if you’re not interested.
Helen MacInnes (Scottish-American author)
There is strong empirical support(1) for the claim that interest (sometimes called the need for stimulation, exploratory drive, stimulus hunger – or simply escape from boredom) is one of the fundamental and universal drives among animals and humans. The term interest is used not only because it is more common than the other terms, but also because it has a wider (not limited only to sensations) and more appropriate meaning in relation to people.
Human interest does not depend only on external stimulation. Stimulation can also be internal, or of a different nature (spiritual interest, for example, may even require sensory deprivation). In any case, when this drive is not satisfied we experience a sense of boredom. Boredom is on the other side of the spectrum to interest, and can be an intense negative motivator so looking at it is worthwhile too. The aim of this area is to enable you to increase control over these related phenomena.
Being in charge of boredom is important because bordom can make us do what we really don’t want to and can make us unhappy. So let’s examine first when we get bored.
When do we get bored?
Generally speaking there are two categories of such situations:
- We are bored because nothing is happening (‘I have nothing to do!’ feeling).
- We are bored because of what is happening (e.g. we feel that a task, movie, lecture, conversation, or activity is boring).
Before we consider these categories in more detail, it is important to remember that interest and boredom do not depend only on circumstances but also on ourselves: both are, to a large degree, in the ‘eyes of the beholder’.