BOREDOM MYTHS 2: “Intelligent people never get bored” or WHY INTELLIGENT PEOPLE (ALSO) GET BORED

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As the popular statement goes, intelligent people never get bored. And since, as Descartes noted, the reason is the best-distributed thing in the world – as everyone thinks they are well supplied with it – the greater part of humanity maintains that they are never bored. However, as Flaubert pointed out some time ago, human actions testify to the opposite. The saying in question, therefore, testifies to hypocrisy and an attempt to exalt oneself (I am not bored; therefore, I am intelligent, others who are bored are less intelligent) rather than being a sententious statement of objective life truth. So what is it about this intelligence that supposedly protects against boredom?

The saying is probably based on the assumption that boredom means idleness, and intelligent people would be better able to cope with it by inventing ever new ways to combat the condition. Intelligent people are, after all, more creative and do not get caught in the trap of mindless and apathetic idleness. However, boredom is not idleness; it is just one of its possible causes, as we are often bored while working. Studies show that boredom at work increases in direct proportion to intelligence, especially in jobs that are monotonous and predictable (such as assembly line work and many office jobs). An intelligent person will suffer far more torment in a cognitively unstimulating and unchallenging job than a less intelligent person, who will often find such work much more suitable and even comforting.

Besides, intelligence is related to a higher level of (self-)awareness. The more intelligent a person is, the more they think, analyze and conclude. It is therefore not surprising that they generally realize with greater clarity the meaninglessness of what they are forced to do and are more disturbed by it. The sense of meaninglessness, on the other hand, is one of the main causes, indeed the essence, of boredom. We are bored by what we do not see sense in for ourselves, what we consider meaningless. An intelligent person is more difficult to satisfy, more difficult to convince that an activity is meaningful and not just a waste of time. A higher level of reflection would therefore be associated with a higher risk of falling into mental states associated with boredom, such as discouragement, demotivation, or depression. Profound boredom, known as existential boredom, consisting of the feeling that life has no meaning, is absurd and unnecessary, that nothing is worth doing because it does not matter in the face of man’s insignificance in the universe, may also be one of the effects of ‘exuberant’ intelligence.

Another argument for the thesis that intelligent people are more likely to be bored and more likely to ‘consciously experience boredom is the higher level of expectations. Intelligent people cannot stop the torrent of thoughts, plans, and ambitions. They also constantly expect cognitive excitement and nourishment for their brains, which is not always readily available in certain social situations such as a boring party, job or school lessons. Intelligent people are quicker to understand what another person wants to say, what needs to be done, or what the issue being presented is about. And then they have to wait for things to develop slowly. An intelligent student will solve a maths task faster and have to wait for the rest to finish it too. A smart employee will complete a task faster than the work schedule specified and have to pretend to work the rest of the time.

I hope that these few, albeit simplistic, examples have convinced the (intelligent) reader that the saying “intelligent people don’t get bored” is just another mindlessly repeated (actually quite stupid) slogan and that boredom is as much an ailment of the intelligent as it is of the supposedly less intelligent (even if they experience the feeling differently – but to clarify this issue we still need more research).

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