Dr. Kaushik Sridhar

A Mundane Normality – Part 2

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Sometimes you can feel so bored with life that you want to uproot it all. Make a big change. Move to a more vibrant city. Get another dog. Somehow, it seems these things might cure you of my endless ennui. For me, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to accept and even embrace my (sometimes) boring life because I know that even if it were different, I probably wouldn’t be happier. And here’s why:
  1. People are bad at predicting what’s going to make them happy
If you had to guess which of these three groups is happiest, which would you choose?:
  • Lottery winners a year after winning the lottery
  • Paraplegics a year after the accident that caused their paraplegia
  • Regular joes
Most people assume the lottery winners would be happiest. But they’re wrong. According to a 1978 study, the lottery winners were just barely happier than the paraplegics. And they weren’t any happier than regular Joes (the control group). How could this be? It’s due to a concept called hedonic adaptation, which is the theory that we all have a “set point” for our happiness. In other words, despite major positive or negative life changes, we always return to our “baseline” happiness. Harvard happiness researcher Dan Gilbert (who has a great Ted Talk, by the way) puts it this way: The truth is, bad things don’t affect us as profoundly as we expect them to. That’s true of good things, too. We adapt very quickly to either. So the good news is that going blind is not going to make you as unhappy as you think it will. The bad news is that winning the lottery will not make you as happy as you expect. There’s a saying: “wherever you go, there you are.”
  1. Life is not supposed to be exciting all the time
I once knew a girl who was a respiratory therapist. Respiratory therapists care for patients who are having difficulty breathing — either due to chronic disease or trauma — heart attack, stroke, or a wound, for example. I thought her job sounded fascinating. But when I told her this, she said: “Meh, it’s ok. It can get kind of boring. I was doing CPR on a stab wound victim the other day and I noticed my mind was just wandering.” Wait, what? This girl was in the middle of saving someone’s life and she was bored? Her mind was wandering? My mind was blown. It makes sense though. Part of this goes back to point #1 — after awhile, hedonic adaptation sets in and things that were exciting to us eventually become normal. But this “becoming normal” also serves a deeper purpose. Evolutionarily, it doesn’t make sense for us to be excited all the time. If my friend had been nervous or excited every time she had to help an injured person, she probably wouldn’t be able to do her job well. This is the same principle behind why, after awhile, the fierce passion of romantic love fades into less exciting companionate love. Our day to day life is supposed to be kind of mundane. In her book Moments of Being, Virginia Woolf calls this mundane state of existence “non-being”. The mundane moments you forget about — is really the meat of your life. But that’s ok because….
  1. We enjoy these mundane moments more than we think we do
Or, at least looking back on them. Have you ever taken a picture of something completely mundane and then later felt a ton of joy when you looked back on that moment? We get a lot more joy out of our daily lives than we realise. Despite this, we tend to think of our lives as a series of milestones. When we think of our life story, we think of the big moves we made, the degrees we got, the jobs we started, our marriage, the birth of our children. And these things are important, but in reality are a small portion of what comprises our lives. It’s the little day-to-day occurrences where most of our lives are lived. So when we look back on these moments, we’re looking back at these ordinary, beautiful moments with new eyes. The dogs playing, the loving act of making dinner, the way the laundry was scattered in that one photo. That is the true story of our lives. And that is what I try to tell myself when I’m living through these run-of-the-mill moments. It reminds me of this moment from The Office finale: These days — these simple, boring days — are my good old days.
  1. Boredom itself is interesting and useful
Boredom is painful, but it exists for a reason. It’s what pushes us to try new things. Psychologists believe that boredom may be responsible for man discovering new continents and creating new inventions. After all, humans need stimulation and novelty — these things play a role in brain plasticity and encourage new brain cell birth. And boredom is the catalyst that helps us find this novelty. You have to feel the frustration of boredom to forge new paths, to find new things. A lot of the good things in your life have probably come from boredom. And when you think about it, that’s pretty damn interesting.

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