I have noticed that the least studied in Anthropology are the abstract feelings of humans that can be observed through their culture-specific actions and behaviors.  Feelings such as hate, fear, regret, boredom are interesting and important to study as they are the basics or cores of bigger problems such as violence, rape, addiction, divorce, suicide, mental illness, etc.  It is boredom that has tickled my brain lately.  Three incidences have made me think that there is a need to study human feelings and how culture controls them. 

A cousin of mine just woke up one day weeks ago feeling unhappy with his marriage and asking for a divorce from his wife.  She said it was a midlife crisis, and he said, "to find real happiness."  His wife is an American Caucasian from Kentucky, and he is of Chinese and Spanish ancestry brought up in an Asian culture.  Traditionally, we do not have a concept of midlife crisis in the Philippines. What we have is boredom we call "bagot" or "inip".  We also use "inis" (annoyance) or "pagod" (exhaustion) to mean something that is worse than boredom.  Boredom in our culture has different levels of magnitude and effect.  

A husband for instance can be annoyed by his wife's constant nagging, and that makes him tired of his marriage life. When my cousin's wife asked me for an advice after telling me that she might be boring to him now and that she should lose weight or have beautifying surgeries or spice their sexual activities, I could only tell her that she should speak to her husband about the real reasons behind his sudden feeling of estrangement.  Midlife crisis or boredom in their case is just too deep to be simplified.  In my culture and his husband's, what is boring can be what is tiring or what one hates.  Even food, such as microwavable meals served daily that are becoming boring, can be an object of hate or annoyance that can affect a marital relationship.  

I also have a neighbor who is a recluse single man in his fifties.  I know because he is talked about in the neighborhood.  He likes rummaging our huge garbage bins every Tuesday when they are full before the next day pick up.  Everyone thinks he is a hoarder, but nobody dares to report him for fire or health hazards.  His patio looks clean and uncluttered, and he is not an obnoxious neighbor.  The only noise we hear coming out from his house is the endless series of television infomercials at night.  I always hear a big-voiced man yelling and pitching different products until about past midnight.

My neighbor's life, I think, revolves around multiple forms of boredom that are complex and intertwined.  Maybe he was bored with his life but not watching infomercials or checking garbage bins.  Maybe Hollywood movies bore him to death or maybe he does not find real shopping interesting.  His being alone can bore him too.  Obtaining stuff by simply buying from stores can be boring to some people who hoard.  There is no perceivable challenge compared to looking for free stuff and dump-diving.  What has made me wonder is the eventuality after he gets bored with watching infomercials and taking stuff from the garbage bins.  I hope it will not be severe mental illness or worse, suicide.         

The last one is the case of my last boss, the former pastry chef of the hotel resort where I work.  He just quit his job last week.  Again, boredom was the culprit according to him.  He wanted to write songs after ten years of tinkering and mastering ovens and mixers.  Why some people change careers while others just extend or diversify theirs is interesting to me.  When I got bored and tired of cooking last month, I did not quit.  I requested that I be allowed to work two days a week baking and doing pastry even though my previous experience in the flour and sugar department was limited.  I decided to give myself a big headache in measurement and calculation of ingredients alone than quit.  I fight boredom by making and facing new challenges not quitting.

Is my coping mechanism cultural?  Is the act of quitting as in the case of my old boss also falls within the ambit of culture? I know there is something economic involved.  He could afford to quit because he must have saved enough.  I have been in my current job not even a year.   I cannot do what he did--sudden career change out of boredom.  I have not encountered someone who is a relative or a fellow countryman  who becomes something out of boredom.  It is mostly due to economic needs and benefits.  My sister started as a geologist back home but ended up a pediatric neurologist here, but she still finds tectonic plates and lahar flows interesting topics to talk about during dinner.   

Career can be a thing of culture.  In some societies or communities, even without labor-related castes, a doctor's son is a doctor, and so is his grandson.  Being a doctor becomes a family "trademark".  Like in my country, a doctor can be a businessman or a politician in a small community not out of boredom but due to monopoly of power and financial resources. A farmer does not quit farming just to become a fisherman.  He can both fish and farm.  He widens his resources that way.  I learned early on that to look for an alternative to something boring, one must make and face challenges for new experience. We make "challenging" the opposite also of "boring".

I grew up in a culture where people do not just quit because something is boring or tiring.  We try to make something boring or tiring interesting.  That is how we challenge ourselves.  Besides low suicide rate, our material culture can attest to that.  Our famous mode of transportation we call "dyip' (jeepney) is anything but boring.  It comes with its own colors, graphics, styles, statements, etc.  It has been said that no two jeepneys are alike. There are jeepneys that become moving spaces for religion, pornography, literature, politics, business, and yes, visual arts.  The most basic coping mechanism I learned is to fight boredom by making it interesting not quitting or changing path altogether.  That, I think, is because of my culture that sees quitters as losers who should lose respect.

A poem about boredom:

The Crackling

After these,

My last ones,

What shall I do?

Should I trace the veins of the roses 

Or connect the blinking stars?

Should I look for the lost penny

Or watch the cleaning infomercials?

Should I count the even backwards

Or recite the long prayer with no end?

Should I touch the stucco walls

Or run my fingers on the wood grains?

Should I smell the old gas oven

Or pick the drying leaves of cilantro?

Should I google my complete name

Or just read the thick yellow pages?

Should I eat the rice krispies one by one

Or search the whole pepper in my pasta?

Should I read the book about extinct birds

Or imagine the azure or emerald ocean? 

What Shall I do

After popping these?

Pfft! Pfft! Pfft!

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Comment by Todd Gardner on March 15, 2012 at 2:55am

Boredom is often a symptom rather than a cause.  Challage will only combat "boredom" if it is accompanied by hope.  As we live out our lives and chase our dreams, we are often forced to choose one dream over another (ie. your sister is not a geologist, she's a doctor).  Not always do people make the choise that is best for them as an individual.  We often sacrifice our desires (or dreams) for spouses or children.  When we sacrifice ourselves it is often considered selfless and a good measure of a man/woman.  However, if those we made sacrifices for, forget or dispise or dishonor the selfless act; resentment and dispair will slowly erode the heart of the person we thought to be heroic.  When a person no longer has a dream to chase, or that dream becomes a person who does not what to be a goal or a dream, what then motivates that person to continue when things are hopeless. Why then should this person strive?  Why push hard to chase the result of a poor decision.  Many will wallow in the sorrow.  But other will choose to find a new goal and new dream, or go and chase a dream that had been abandoned by past choises. 


Simply put,  think of a maze for mice.  Everyday, cheese is placed in the same spot in the maze, and the mice are released.  Quickly, the routes are learned to earn the reward.  After weeks of the same route, move the cheese to a new location. The mice will run the normal route and find no cheese.  Some mice wait looking for the cheese that is not there and others begin to search looking for the cheese that they can smell.  If a persons motivation is GONE do you want to be the mouse that looks for cheese someplace else or the one who waits for cheese that is not coming.  The conflict durring these crisis moments may appear to be "boredom", but are often dispare or loss of self.  Ask your cousin what choises he has made to get to this point.  Does he have regreats.  What dreams did he have that will never be realized.  What does he use to "escape" his problems.  Ask him "who moved his cheese?"

Comment by John McCreery on March 1, 2012 at 5:55am
The Wikipedia article on boredom points in a lot of interesting directions, e.g., the first use of the word in English by Dickens in 1852 or the role of boredom in continental philosophy (Heidegger, Existentialism). I note that in contemporary usage the antithesis of boredom is stimulation or entertainment. But another possibility is mindfulness—a concept that I associate with Buddhism and of which I was recently reminded by reading The Diamond Cutter: The Buddha on Strategies for Managing Your Business and Your Life by Geshe Michael Roach. 

Why do we constantly crave stimulation? Why do we experience boredom when stimulation is lacking? One plausible answer is that we are taught to, constantly bombarded by the message from advertising, popular culture, and the 24-hour news cycle—all of the demand-driving apparatus of the capitalist economy—that we are missing something and need something more. 

Mindfulness suggests an alternative vision. Paradoxically we cease to be bored and freed from the desire for stimulation by meditation on what we are doing and treasuring every fine detail. Mindfulness can lead to flow, a state in which the self that demands stimulation disappears. 

In Japan, where consumerism is rampant and the search for stimulation/entertainment may now seem overwhelming, subcultures draw on mindfulness and flow in ways that range from martial and other traditional arts to (here popular culture is, unexpectedly, helpful) the obsession with detail that makes the heroine of Tampopo with her search for the perfect ramen noodle recipe a model for all sorts of people who find themselves stuck in what might otherwise seem utterly meaningless jobs. From tea ceremony to Tampopo we see people losing themselves in what they are doing, creating meaning for selfless selves that as modern consumer selves would be lost and bored without the endless stimulation/frustration that contemporary culture demands.


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