Why Boredom Can Be Profoundly Useful

Why Boredom Can Be Profoundly Useful 1
Photo by meredith hunter on Unsplash

Boredom is a state of mind that makes most people horribly uncomfortable. When all occupations temporarily leave us, and we’re left floundering alone with our thoughts, we might bear witness to a creeping sense of lethargy that seems to enclose our very souls, spawning an instinctive desire to liberate ourselves from the grievous tedium of nothingness, away from the intense feelings of apathy, depression, weariness and languor. Escape seems the logical solution to such apparent ghastliness.

Some writers would even have us believe that boredom is the consequence of a flawed character, claiming listlessness to be wholly unacceptable in such a fascinating world as ours:

“There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.”

G.K. Chesterton

I’m assuming that Mr. Chesterton was never forced to attend Sunday church as a child, or to spend the day watching Test cricket. Despite existing in a universe comprised of a magnitude of wonder, the shine of its splendour is still easily dulled by the bored human mind, and to classify this as a flaw seems a grave injustice.

For German philosopher Martin Heidegger, to face raw, unadulterated boredom is to stare deep into the foggy abyss, all sense of meaning obliterated, with nothing left but dreaded existential anxiety:

“Profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference”

Martin Heidegger

Boredom has a terrible rap, it seems. But despite being universally maligned, boredom has a multitude of latent benefits, like precious jewels waiting to be unearthed. As with every other emotion that we experience, boredom was developed for an evolutionary benefit: to discover what interests us, and then to motivate us towards it. It serves as a mechanism for seeking new, beneficial experiences. As one sits in a bored funk, mind devoid of focus, appealing ideas may start to emerge from the darkness, and given that doing something seems better than doing nothing, we find ourselves on the receiving end of little zaps of energy, lighting us up with intention. Many significant human advancements may have been the result of bored geniuses.

“Something’s got to happen—that’s the explanation for most human undertakings.”

Jean-Claude Baptiste (Albert Camus—The Fall)

The self-reflection and daydreaming that occurs during periods of boredom are teachers of our own desires, educating us on what we want, and then motivating us to get them. Our instinctive and immediate desire to escape from boredom—whether with social media, television, video games, or whatever else in your escapism arsenal—drowns out these valuable, insightful teachings, in favour of something entertaining, but bereft of meaning. Boredom can force us to start on the difficult and valuable thing that we’ve been putting off for years. It’s an opportunity to tend to our own requirements; to be temporarily introspective, rather than mindless content consumers.

“Boredom makes people keen to engage in activities that they find more meaningful than those at hand.”

Wijnand van Tilburg

The more we employ the numbing tactics of escapism, the greater our alienation from our true selves; those soft whispers that echo in the chambers of our minds.

“Like the trap of quicksand, such thrashing only serves to strengthen the grip of boredom by further alienating us from our desire and passion, which provide compass points for satisfying engagement with life”

John Eastwood, boredom researcher

Few people like to be alone with their thoughts, particularly the difficult ones. But running away only exacerbates them; they grow in your mind like a rapacious virus, goading you into inevitable combat. The beasts that we bury deep within are but temporary prisoners. Every attempt at distraction swells their strength, until they burst forth with a violence that cannot be ignored. Embracing boredom can help you to identify the things that truly bother you, so that you can face them head on, and with a bit of luck, defeat them.

The busyness and distraction habits that we’ve built for ourselves can have a tendency to make our brains feel as though they’re brimming with worthless clutter, and travelling with such speed as to put Speedy Gonzalez to shame. Consuming hundreds of memes, photos and videos with frantic flicks of the thumb might leave you feeling even more stressed than before. By allowing yourself to be bored on occasion, you may find that you’re less tired at the end of the day. Submitting to the odd bout of boredom is like drinking a cup of coffee without the elevated heart-rate.

Having mustered the fortitude to withstand a little boredom, the valuable thing that you decide to do may be suffused with more creativity¹. Innovation often comes from daydreaming, when your mind is in a directionless, wandering state. Only by doing nothing is there room for something to emerge. When we’re in such a state, our brain’s Default Mode Network is activated, a core component of creativity. Incidentally, this network is also activated when taking psychedelics. The empty space of boredom makes room for wondrous creativity.

“So we might try to find that stimulation by our minds wandering and going to someplace in our heads. That is what can stimulate creativity, because once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to wander, you start thinking beyond the conscious and into the subconscious. This process allows different connections to take place. It’s really awesome.”

Sandi Mann

On the surface, being bored seems a waste of our precious time; a devilish rascal to be avoided at all cost. But digging a little deeper reveals the truth: it’s a driving force of creative thinking, allows golden moments of self-reflection, and compels us towards what we value. Escaping into the glow of a screen while sucking our thumbs for comfort isn’t necessarily the best option. By relenting to our boredom, we may just stumble onto something important.

“When hit by boredom, let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. In general, with things unpleasant, the rule is: The sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface. The idea here is to exact a full look at the worst. The reason boredom deserves such scrutiny is that it represents pure, undiluted time in all its repetitive, redundant, monotonous splendour.

Boredom is your window on the properties of time that one tends to ignore to the likely peril of one’s mental equilibrium. It is your window on time’s infinity. Once this window opens, don’t try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.”

 Joseph Brodsky

References

  1. Peter Enticott, ‘What does boredom to do your brain‘, Deakin University

Is Modern Entertainment Making Us More Lonely?

Is Modern Entertainment Making Us More Lonely? 2
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

In the summer of 1996, when I was about 13 years old, my buddy Neil got himself a handheld video camera. For a group of impoverished teenagers, it was a thing of wonder, and the first thing that our group of friends wanted to do was to fake an embarrassing fall, so that we could post the video to entertainment show You’ve Been Framed. For those unfamiliar with the program, it features a string of home-video gaffes such as people falling off tables at weddings, dogs running headfirst into bushes, and children using footballs to splatter ice creams over their dads’ faces. If we were able to stage a convincing fall, where one of us trips at just the right time and bundles into the unforgiving concrete, we might become television stars!

The stage was our usual spot for playing football—a vacant, semi-detached house with a large windowless side, which we could blast the ball at without complaint. Most of the game was played in the road itself, with only the goalkeeper on the footpath, slightly raised up on a kerb. The plan was for Lee—the oafish, bravest lump of our friendship group—to line up a shot on goal, trip on the kerb, and crash into the pavement. It was full-proof.

With the camera rolling, the ball was passed towards Lee, and the confusion caused by the charade made him trip on his own feet, and his great mass of flesh was sent flailing into the air, followed by a spectacular clattering onto the footpath. We watched the clip again and again, until our cheeks and sides ached from laughter. The clip never did get featured on You’ve Been Framed, but it didn’t matter—that little moment of joy was what we really needed. I loved my group of friends, and wouldn’t have changed anything for the world.

Having close friends and spending time with them is arguably one of the best aspects of human existence, but despite being awash with technologies that allow us batter our chums with messages, photographs, and video clips, people around the world are feeling lonelier than ever. Nearly half of Americans claim to feel regularly lonely¹. A third of Britons say the same¹. In Japan, there’s half a million people under 40 who haven’t interacted with anyone for at least 6 months¹. A study from the General Social Survey showed that between 1985 and 2004, the people with whom the average American could discuss important matters dropped from three to two, and the number of Americans who had nobody to discuss important matters with tripled⁵. Since the 1970’s, American teenagers have been meeting with their friends significantly less—roughly half as much as they used to⁶.

Is Modern Entertainment Making Us More Lonely? 3
US teens who meet up with their friends “almost every day”. Image from The Conversation

The problem is so urgent that scientists have declared a “loneliness epidemic”, with great concern for the public’s health. Lonely people are 30% more prone to stroke, or to develop coronary artery disease². People who are blessed with supportive relationships have lower blood pressure, and reduced anxiety². Shockingly, loneliness carries a bigger risk for premature death than smoking or obesity³. The people sitting in their homes pining for human connection are 32% more likely to die than those who have friends⁴.

“A robust body of scientific evidence has indicated that being embedded in high-quality close relationships and feeling socially connected to the people in one’s life is associated with decreased risk for all-cause mortality as well as a range of disease morbidities.”

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Theodore F. Robles, David A. Sbarra³

As a teenager in the 90’s, if I wasn’t in the mood for galavanting the streets with my friends, I stayed inside and entertained myself with reading, television, or Super Mario Bros. Eventually, I’d get bored and go out anyway. Today, we’re faced with an onslaught of solo entertainment, of anything we could possibly imagine. We can spend eight hours absorbing the spectacular neon storytelling of Stranger Things, or committing virtual murder on Call of Duty. We can listen to a fascinating Joe Rogan podcast, as he quizzes a guest about the spiritual benefits of ingesting magic mushrooms. We can shift into zombie mode and scroll through our Instagram feed, with an endless number of adorable puppies to light up our cute receptors. We can fire up a virtual music studio and compose a thundering techno track. Or we can strap on a VR headset, leave this cruel world behind, and forge virtual friendships instead. There’s a form of entertainment suited for everybody, and it’s becoming more and more accessible.

Is Modern Entertainment Making Us More Lonely? 4
Photo by Uriel Soberanes on Unsplash

With so much guaranteed entertainment at our fingertips, why bother with the effort of interacting with real people, with its risks of mediocrity? Human interaction is a roll of the dice—you might win and end up with closer friendships, or you might lose and lumber home dejectedly, after having bored your companions to sleep with stories of your dog’s anarchistic bowel movements. Being a conversation conjurer is a tough job, particularly if you have a problem with being vulnerable, or a burning desire to be always right. Even the most confident socialites fail from time-to-time, temporarily blighting the group with awkwardness, until someone in better form steps in to relieve the tension. Moments such as these can drive us away from our companions into the soothing arms of the latest Netflix sensation, pleasure all-but guaranteed, and not a social faux pas in sight. But despite its many excellent benefits, Netflix isn’t going to keep you warm at night, or lend a sympathetic ear for your creeping sense of sadness. It can’t offer concerned advice about your burgeoning drinking problem, or innocently tease you about the additional weight that has found its way onto your face. It can only entertain you, and while it’s a champion in its field, it doubles up as a devil that steals away the time needed to fortify friendships, and stave off loneliness.

Measuring up to modern entertainment is tough. My conversation doesn’t have the depth of an episode of The Wire. It doesn’t transport you to an entirely new world, weaving a beautifully-constructed narrative that portrays the precariousness of being a resident of Baltimore. It isn’t as thrilling as gunning down outlaws on Red Dead Redemption 2, nor does it offer the same sense of achievement. Reddit’s most popular posts are all funnier than me. Why settle for something subpar, when you can have something sublime? But as we hide ourselves away in our homes, distracting ourselves with all-singing all-dancing entertainment, our sense of loneliness swells. The descent into social isolation isn’t accompanied by a melancholy solo violin, but the optimistic chimes of candy being crushed, amusing you into solitude, one lemon drop at a time. In the small window of downtime when YouTube counts down to the next autoplay, you might receive a whispered internal reminder of your social isolation, followed by cravings of human connection, difficult to alleviate after years of rejecting invitations in favour of sofa-bound inertia. Can we be blamed? Social interaction can be a messy business—entertainment is anything but, and can even be addictive. One only has to witness the madness of a teenager having his World of Warcraft account deleted to get an idea of how important entertainment is for some people.

The advance of technology provides new opportunities to gratify us, with artificial intelligence being used to create even more potent forms of entertainment. As we happily sign up for brand new apps in exchange for unbridled access to our personal information, artificially intelligent systems are able to gorge themselves on our data, producing models that accurately predict the most effective way to entertain us. Data gurus PricewaterhouseCoopers predict 2019 to be the year of media personalisation⁷, with refinement and filtering of our entertainment becoming more popular, allowing us to curate endless hours of tailor-made fun. This is like injecting steroids into an AI system. As we endow it with unbridled access to our preferences, it can use that information to offer up even more enthralling forms of entertainment. Eventually, and oh-so-gradually, we might find ourselves transformed into the chair-bound blobs from WALL-E, thoroughly entertained, but lonely beyond belief.

Back when the world was black and white, our grandparents would huddle around the radio as a family. Since then we’ve gained access to the television, VCR, game console, online news, Compact Discs, MTV, the world wide wide, talk radio, DVDs, blogs, the iPod, social media, smartphones, and more. The plethora of entertainment now available to us has quashed the possibility of boredom, but makes the forging and maintenance of solid relationships a secondary thought, as though it’s more important to be entertained than loved. Nothing could be further from the truth. As we become exposed to even more forms of entertainment, bigger and better than before, we may find ourselves slipping further into isolation, delighted by rainbows of colour and sound, but estranged from the only thing that can offer us a treasured sense of belonging: our fellow humans.

**

References

  1. Neil Howe, 2019, ‘Millennials And The Loneliness Epidemic’, Forbes
  2. Selby Frame, 2017, ‘Julianne Holt-Lunstad Probes Loneliness, Social Connections’, American Psychological Association
  3. Holt-Lunstad, Julianne,Robles, Theodore F. Sbarra, David A, 2017, ‘Advancing social connection as a public health priority in the United States.’, American Psychological Association
  4. Sonya Collins, 2019, ‘The Loneliness Epidemic Has Very Real Consequences’, WebMD
  5. Olds, J. & Schwartz, R. S., 2009, ‘ The lonely American: Drifting apart in the 21st century’, Beacon Press
  6. Jean Twenge, 2019, ‘Teens have less face time with their friends — and are lonelier than ever’, The Conversation
  7. 2019 ‘Getting personal: Putting the me in entertainment and media’, PricewaterhouseCoopers

The Invasion of Mindless Entertainment

The Invasion of Mindless Entertainment 5
Mindless entertainment is all around us—Photo from Gratis Photography

Entertainment has played a significant role in the history of our species. During our primitive Stone Age, it came in the form of campfire storytelling—an edge-of-your-rock thriller, recounting a face-to-face meeting with the infamous, deathly-black Jaguar, and his phantom-like ways. Then arrived theatre, with its fancily-clad actors, weaving Machiavellian tales of rebellious, snakelike deceit, building towards a heart-wrenching tragedy. Today, we’re inundated with entertainment—TV shows that portray the lives of portly Italian gangsters, feature-length movies that depict the difficult lives of young black men living in Los Angeles, and music, games, books, magazines, sports—an astounding variety of endless amusement, offering us a temporary distraction from our responsibilities, until reality returns to reclaim us. Our sanity requires entertainment as nourishment, lest we become gaunt overachievers, unable to accommodate anything but our potent ambition while creeping ever closer to the white-washed walls of the nuthouse. Entertainment takes us away from ourselves, offering a temporary form of relief—a lightening of the gravity of existence, during which our soul can rejuvenate. 

Not all entertainment is equal, however. The internet has given rise to an entirely new type of entertainment—hastily produced, easily distributed, and effortlessly consumable. These are the memes, short videos, gifs, and any other form of “quick-consumption” amusement that can be found plastered across social media. Their primary purpose is to tickle us in a way that requires zero brainpower, as quickly as possible, until we can move onto something equally as shallow and thoughtless. Though mindless entertainment does have a small degree of value (a hearty chuckle when our brains are fatigued), its proliferation in our lives has a number of negative consequences.

First, there’s our attention span. As we become more accustomed to spending our free time consuming meme after meme, video after video, and tweet after tweet of mindless amusement, when we’re faced with something valuable that requires concerted effort—a Tolstoy novel, with its 1,225 pages of sophisticated plot and bamboozling array of Russian characters—we may as well be faced with Mount Everest. We’ve become so adapted to mindless entertainment, so used to being gratified quickly and efficiently, that the motivation required to read a difficult book, get through a slow-burning TV drama, or just sit and listen to a 10-minute Beethoven masterpiece, is non-existent³; our willingness to put effort into challenging forms of entertainment all but vanished. When we do muster the courage to attempt a demanding form of entertainment, the experience is tainted with an oppressive desire for our phones, skin positively crawling with a craving for something easier, as our brains become flooded with the dopamine and serotonin associated with mindless entertainment. Many of us cave at this point, and the Tolstoy novel—that masterpiece of moral teaching that can teach you how to be a better person—is slotted back into its dusty position on the shelf, perhaps forever.

Our capacity for sustained concentration is fundamental to our success, whether at work, or play, and the teeming plethora of mindless entertainment that pervades our modern lives is damaging it. With adorable puppy videos just a few clicks away, procrastination can become impossible to resist, particularly if you’ve built a habit of gawping at them in your spare time. As we fill our lives with the quick and easy, we impair our ability for the difficult, tough, and often worthy. There’s no doubt that watching an episode of The Wire, with its incredible storytelling, and beautiful, often subtle social commentary, has greater value that spending an hour watching corgi videos. Exceptional drama can teach us about the world that we live in, even improving our emotional intelligence in the process¹. But as with anything subtle and complex, in order for us to recognise and fully appreciate its value, our sustained concentration is required — an act that is becoming increasingly difficult for the modern internet user², more accustomed to the two-second thrill of a meme than a gradually developing six-season drama.

The more time we spend scrolling through mindless entertainment, the harder it is for us to become immersed in worthy entertainment. In our age of distraction, choosing to play a game of chess, with its requirement for gradual, thoughtful strategy, isn’t much of a choice at all, and so we’re impoverished — destined to become the consumers of imbecilic nonsense, created purely for our attention, rather than for its value. It’s as though we have an addiction to easy entertainment, and when faced with something a little more challenging, can only resist our dopamine for so long before inevitably relenting, like puppets without will.

Our intelligence is another consideration. While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional hour spent amusing yourself with Game of Thrones memes, or video clips of hilarious tomfooleries, too much of this kind of entertainment will turn you into a braindead bore. Good entertainment, on the other hand, is often brimming with valuable, educational gems—a captivating Shakespeare tragedy; a ten-part series on the Vietnam War; the closing scenes of gaming masterpiece The Last of Us—these experiences bestow us with wonderfully fresh perspectives, having kicked off the shoes of a brand-new character, recently pitted in a battle against unfamiliar circumstances, we emerge with greater tolerance and empathy. These kinds of rewards can’t usually be found amongst the insipid content of Instagram or Faecesbook, and every hour spent within their grasp is an hour in which we could be learning more about the world that we live in. This is not to suggest that every spare minute should be spent on laborious, hard-hitting drama—sometimes we’re so exhausted that puppy videos are all our brains can handle. But most of the time, we should feel energised enough to opt for more valuable forms of entertainment, to avoid the descent into asinine mediocrity—a place filled with the banal frivolities of social media memes, and the vapid “hey guys” videos of Instagram influencers. The fact that an Instagram influencer even exists is evidence of our adoration of bland, mindless entertainment, at the expense of our intelligence. Immerse yourself in this kind of amusement, and it may become your whole world.

Finally, we have our mental health to consider. Social media, with its memes, videos, and fake news, has shown to increase the risk of serious conditions such as depression and anxiety. As these platforms reel us in with their interminable, flavourless content, and we remain transfixed for hours on end, we’re trading short-term entertainment for long-term happiness. The gross thrills that we’re conditioned to consume end up consuming us instead, until we come to the realisation that we’re wasting our lives on complete and utter garbage, at the expense of some truly magnificent forms of treasured entertainment, with the power to nudge us towards confidence-boosting knowledge, and greater degrees of emotional intelligence.

There’s nothing wrong with the odd cheap thrill. We can’t be forever taut, poised to conquer this and that in an endless attempt at self improvement. Relaxation is just as important as work. But in our modern world of uncountable memes, video clips, and short-form articles, the way we relax has changed for many of us, with dire consequences. After years of immersing ourselves in mindless entertainment, even instant gratification can seem sluggish. Our once stellar attention becomes broken and fragmented, our intelligence stunted, and our mental health contaminated—until the day we decide that enough is enough.

References

  1. Tom Jacobs, Watching TV Can Boost Emotional Intelligence
  2. Carolyn Gregoire, The Internet May Be Changing Your Brain In Ways You’ve Never Imagined
  3. Harriet Griffey, The lost art of concentration: being distracted in a digital world

The Importance of a Balanced Life

tightrope-walker
Living a balanced life—Image from Oxford Dictionaries

It can be tough trying to live a good life. Most of us want an existence that favours our own happiness and contentment, but struggle to achieve them, repeatedly falling off the proverbial wagon into gluttony, lethargy, burnout, or any other calamitous outcome. We can be way too hard on ourselves, pursuing idealistic lives that are wonderful in theory, but unrealistic in practice, with every failure followed by the harshest of self-criticism, and then dismal self-loathing. Voltaire famously said that “the best is the enemy of the good,” summing up perfectly what we should be aiming for—not perfection, but good.

This is the idea of living with balancenot an idealistic dream in which you exercise six times a week, eat only the healthiest of foods, and spend every spare minute learning, but a life in which you exercise just enough, eat healthy foods just enough, and spend just enough time expanding your brain. A balanced life is achievable because it acknowledges your weakness for couch-lounging, fatty foods and trashy entertainment, while recognising that you’re also making the effort to accomplish healthy goals. It’s the patient, sympathetic teacher that you had at school, as opposed to the cane-wielding psychopath who would happily tear shreds off you for the slightest indiscretion.

History is peppered with stories and philosophical concepts on the importance of living with balance. Greek mythology tells the tale of Icarus, a prisoner on the island of Crete whose father fashioned a pair of feathered wings in order to make their escape. He offered his son a stark warning: “don’t be complacent and fly too low, as you’ll drown in the sea. Also don’t get too cocky and fly too high, as the sun will melt your wings.” This is clear advice to maintain a balance between the two—the course in which both extremities are avoided, and survival is ensured. Icarus ignored his father, melted his wings in the heat of the sun, and drowned.

Greek philosophy offers us the golden meanadvising to navigate the desirable middle between the extremes of excess and deficiency. Socrates himself taught us that a man should know “how to choose the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as far as possible.” Buddhism has a similar concept—the middle way (samatā)—which states that nirvana can be achieved by walking the line between sensual indulgence and withdrawn asceticism—neither too much pleasure, or too little. There’s examples from Islam too, with theologian al-Ghazali believing that “what is wanted is a balance between extravagance and miserliness through moderation, with the goal of distance between both extremes.” Even the Temple of Apollo was inscribed with “nothing in excess.”

A balanced life is vital for happiness, so how does this translate for modern folk? There’s a few key areas things to consider.

Exercise

Unless you’re training for an ultra-marathon, you probably don’t need to run fifty miles a week. A common reason that people fail to maintain exercise habits is because they set the bar too high, filled with excited motivation during planning, but succumbing to crippling laziness when the time arrives. Starting small is a great way to build long-lasting habits—a short run a couple of times a week, with gradual increases of distance.

Exercise needs to be balanced with relaxation. Our muscles repair themselves when we’re resting, allowing us to recover for another session. Too much exercise will result in exhausted burn-out, and too much rest in negligent, wheezing infirmity. Exercise and rest go hand in hand, and we must find the right balance if we want to maintain excellent physical health.

Food

It’s obvious that you should take the advice of every doctor, nutritionist and personal trainer on the planet, and eat healthily. But unhealthy foods are damned delicious, and by depriving yourself of them all the time, you’re missing out on a great deal of joy (and mental health benefits). Extreme, unbalanced approaches usually end in failure—95% of people who undergo weight loss diets end up regaining the weight within 1-5 years. There’s also the risk of developing a debilitating eating disorder, which is eight times more likely for weight-loss dieters.

All you really need to do is make yourself a healthy eating plan that consists of actual food instead of pre-processed garbage, and allow yourself a few delicious treat meals to satiate your natural cravings. You’ll undoubtedly fall off the wagon, but provided you’re sticking to it for the most part, you’ll have a good balance between healthy and unhealthy food, without having to become a mini-Hitler and goose-step your way to failure.

Entertainment

When it comes to entertainment, we’re spoiled as toddlers at Christmas. Netflix offers us an immense selection of movies and shows across an eclectic range of genres, wrapped up in a user interface that is ridiculously easy to use. These days, we rarely have to wait from week-to-week to watch a TV season, instead slithering into our well-worn sagging spot on the sofa, and consuming the whole lot in the course of the day, only rising to grab food from our poorly underpaid Uber Eats driver.

Our phones are also brimming with entertainment—Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Candy Crush, Angry Birds, WhatsApp, Twitter—most of them designed to trigger our dopamine response, and keep us hooked.

There’s nothing wrong with a little entertainment, but when we spend large portions of our day mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, or sit for hours staring at trashy, mindless TV shows—glistening trails of drool running down our chins—we’re sacrificing precious time on activities that allow us to grow as humans: reading, writing, cooking, spending time with friends, meditation, hiking, painting, designing, or any other creative activity that requires patience and effort.

It’s vital that we become more conscious of how much time we spend entertaining ourselves with mindless junk, in order to create space for activities that make us more compelling, complex, and fufilled humans.

Relationships

Solid personal relationships are a key component of a happy and balanced life, with the potential to proffer us with extra years, fight off stress, and improve our immune system. Lonely people are more prone to depression, pain, fatigue, and tend to have higher blood pressure in later life.

We need good relationships if we want to be healthy, but it’s crucial that we carve out regular chunks of time for ourselves, so that we maintain a sense of freedom. Being in a stifling relationship—in which your partner or friend is so reliant on you that they’d crumble into dust on your departure—can have the unfortunate effect of making us feel like a superior parent, rather than an equal. Time spent with friends must be balanced with time spent for ourselves—there’s nothing wrong with rejecting a social invite if you’d rather stay at home and finish off the bewitching book that you’ve been reading.

Work

Unless you truly love your work, or are temporarily under pressure to get something done, every additional hour spent at the office is wasted time that could be spent on activities that actually make your heart sing. You probably don’t need to work until 7pm every night in the hope that your boss with lavish you with additional riches, because believe it or not, more money can actually damage your good character.

A good work/life balance will help to keep your stress levels in check, while furnishing you with the time needed to pursue habits that are good for your wellbeing, not just your wallet.

**

A good life is achievable, we just need to construct and maintain a careful harmony between the various aspects of our lives—a juggling act that requires practice, and regular assessment. A balanced life gives you permission to indulge in unhealthy pleasures, comfortable in the knowledge that you’re regularly doing the right thing, and so staving off shame-inducing guilt. Instead of a rigid strictness—highly tense and susceptible to breakage—living with balance makes us softer, more agreeable, and more likely to achieve the goals that we set for ourselves, giving us the breathing room that we need to be healthier, happier humans.

Failure of the popular media

c546c9af393345dda2f934638e5de1ae_18.jpgPhoto from Al Jazeera

According to the United Nations, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis is currently going on in Yemen, at the southern end of the Arabian peninsula. The civil war that is raging in the country has resulted in 22 million people – three-quarters of the population – in desperate need of humanitarian aid. 18 million of those people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. That’s equivalent to every single person in London and New York, suddenly without the prospect of an upcoming meal.

Head north-west a couple of thousand kilometres to war-torn Syria. Here, the number of people in desperation amounts to 13 million, over two-thirds of their population. Almost 6 million people are fleeing the endless bombs, some of which contain illegal, devastating nerve agents, choking their victims to death in the most appalling way imaginable.

Make your way south-west until you reach South Sudan, and you’ll hear news of 2.5 million people being forced to desert their homes, in pursuit of a place where they won’t be mercilessly gunned down by rebel soldiers.

There’s a good chance that you don’t know much about these conflicts. In a bid to chase readership and ratings, the popular media prefers to cover more jovial, loveable stories such as George Clooney being named as the royal baby’s godparent. Apparently, a royal baby is more important than thousands of dead ones in the Middle East. The argument is that the popular media are just giving the people what they want. But are we more interested in entertaining topics because that’s what the media promotes? Or would we be willing to spend time learning about humanitarian disasters, if clearly presented with them? This is not to say that the media should forgo all entertainment and torment us with constant death and misery, but they have to make some kind of effort to cover such critical stories, and to position them at the forefront of their mediums, not in some out-of-focus dark corner where nobody ventures. In addition to this, good, hard-working journalists are required instead of bottom-feeding hacks, in order to capture our attention more effectively.

Our own responsibilities are to actively seek out these kinds of stories, and ignore the mind-numbing fluff that jumps up and down for our attention. Spend some time browsing the world category on your favourite news sites, making sure that the sources themselves are considered credible. The BBC, Guardian and Al Jazeera are three excellent examples. The often-buried issues that you’re pursuing are of paramount importance, and unless we know about them, there’s nothing we can do to help. The cynics among you might be screaming: “but we can’t do anything to help!” But this simply isn’t true – change can only start with us, the people. Just look to Martin Luther King or Gandhi for inspiration.

While Facebook is clearly a vapid, soul-sucking creation, it’s still the most popular social network on the planet, and can be used to illuminate crucial topics which usually find themselves in the nether regions of popular media. You might be surprised at how much interest people take in such stories. We’re not as cold-hearted as you think.

Until the day that our souls are merged with the cloud, we retain the ability to converse with people face-to-face – another effective method for spreading important news. Chat to your friends about it over an alcoholic beverage; get on your high-horse and protest against the awful injustice of it all.

On the topic of protests, if you really wanted to get involved, you could join one. You might even start one, and invite a few local news crews in the hope that they’ll actually cover the event. Just try not to smash anything up, because that isn’t fitting for a polite citizen such as yourself.

Finally, reach into those deep pockets of yours, and offer a portion of the contents to a deserving charity. The UN Refugee Agency is a good candidate.

When you’re casually browsing through your media of choice, remember that the most important news on the planet isn’t going to be easy to find. A little poking and digging is required to discover the good stuff. And while much of what you read will be depressing, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it. In fact, that makes it all the more important to read, because upsetting news usually covers that which requires the most immediate change, and change can only start with us.

**

Enjoy this blog? Please share it using the buttons below, it’s a massive help 🙂

Bohemian Rhapsody – film review

MV5BYzc0ZmJhZDYtY2QxOS00Y2E0LWE1N2MtYTBhNWM3YWI1NDk4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1482,1000_AL_Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Bohemian Rhapsody is a biopic of one of the greatest rock bands of all time – Queen. Much like one of their concerts, it’s two hours of unbridled, outrageous flamboyancy that would be hard-pressed to make more entertaining. The film has everything that one might want from an exceptional piece – from moments of desperate, heart-wrenching sadness, to beautifully-timed, laugh-out-loud humour. Not to mention the music. My god, the music.

As one might expect, one of the film’s core concepts is Freddie’s never-personally-revealed homosexuality, and the demons that his prohibition spawned, a depressing necessity in an era that didn’t just treat gayness with intolerance, but with a reviled spit in the face. I remember an old alcoholic who I used to play darts with bragging about “queer bashing” back in the 70’s, that glorious decade when it was considered admirable by some to assault men because of their apparently abnormal sexuality. With such people not just lurking in the shadows but bragging about their behaviour, Freddie Mercury didn’t stand a chance of showing his true colours. His closeted position was smart, but dismally sad nonetheless. The so-called norms of society also pervaded the expectations of those who were supposed to love him most – his Zoroastrian, traditionally-Persian family. His father, cutting a typical dominant, authoritarian male figure, wished his son to be more straight-laced and conventional, an untenable concept for someone with an unstoppable flamboyance. The unreasonable expectations that he placed upon his son lent a distasteful tension to their relationship throughout the film – like anyone else, Freddie just wanted to be loved and accepted by his parents. In addition to his father’s traditional, typical stance, he had the potent racism of the era to contend with, in which “Paki bashing” went along with “queer bashing”, making him positively ashamed of his family’s heritage. In order to distance himself from his ethnic background, and as a way to be more appealing to an often bigoted public, Farrokh Bulsara became Freddie Mercury. In those days the world wasn’t ready for an openly gay, ornate Persian, no matter how indescribably entertaining he might be.

Freddie wasn’t committed to his homosexuality from an early point, forging a sexual relationship with the acclaimed “love of his life” Mary Austin, who he pledged to marry. This wasn’t a meaningless, throwaway attachment, but a deep and genuine love for his fiancée, the chemistry from which Rami Malek and Lucy Boynton can be applauded. This aspect of the film expressed the beauty and power of intimacy, transcending the traditional notion of black and white sexuality to create something sublime – simply two people’s love for each other. Despite Freddie’s clear penchant for males, he was able to thrive in an endearing and enduring sexual relationship with a woman, the love of whom provided a rock-steady anchor in his greatest times of despair. Freddie would be considered gay beyond measure by most, but the greatest love of his life happened to be a female. Like Queen themselves, this was refreshingly unconventional. Mary Austin’s devastation when Freddie finally confesses his “bisexuality” is a beautifully poignant moment in the film, and one of its best.

As Mary’s suspicions are increasingly aroused by Freddie’s flirtatious behaviour with males, he can feel his fiancé slipping away from him, a catalyst which pushes him to a universal coping mechanism – partying. But booze, pills or cocaine never solved anyone’s problems, they just force them down and swell their potency. Freddie was so frightened of facing his demons that he submerged himself in a world that eventually, would kill him. If he were born in a more tolerant era, perhaps Freddie Mercury would have had the courage to reveal himself in all his glamorous, shining glory, and he’d still be alive today. As his love with Mary Austin slowly morphed into something disagreeable, the intimacy in his life shrank, and the escapism that he sought raged. A rock star loved by millions the world over, suffering from loneliness of the most extreme degree.

After revealing his sexual preferences to his fiancée, Freddie’s partying reached new heights, encouraged by the film’s only real villain: Paul Prenter, the band’s manager. Also a marginalised, lonely homosexual, Prenter encourages Freddie’s destructive behaviour, which ultimately ended up killing him. Both men were portrayed as having years of pent up homosexuality, erupting into decadent extremity. The blame can’t be placed solely on Paul Prenter, but his slimey, snakish actions throughout the latter stages of the film, culminating in him revealing Freddie’s homosexual exploits to a tabloid newspaper, create a genuine dislike for the character. As for the tabloids themselves, their moral corruption was typical – all they wanted was to sell more newspapers, despite the pain it may have caused. During a press conference scene, Brian May repeatedly enquires as to whether the so-called-journalists are going to ask about the band’s music, the most important part of Queen’s legacy. This speaks to the nature of that entire sickening industry. Giving the people what they want is no excuse.

In one of the final scenes of the film, as Freddie confesses his sexuality to his parents, his father becomes angry for a moment, but then softens and finally accepts his son for what he is – another truly beautiful moment. This leads to Queen’s famous performance at Live Aid, a hair-raising 20-minute medley of their greatest hits, with Freddie’s flamboyance more extreme than ever before due to the long-desired acceptance of those closest to him. The digital reconstruction of the original Wembley Stadium, Twin Towers and all, was extremely well done.

Mike Myers was cleverly positioned as a record manager who fell-out with the band over their most famous record and the film’s namesake, a song that he’s famous for enthusiastically headbanging to in Wayne’s World. Even though the character never actually existed in real life, his presence in the film added satisfying humour, particularly in the closing scenes when he’s sat alone in his office, watching Queen’s Live Aid performance on TV along with 1.5 billion others.

Another comical scene in the film shows Freddie prostrating himself before the band years after quitting – a complete reversal of power which Brian May takes advantage of by politely asking Freddie, for the first time ever, to leave the office so that the other band members may confer, proverbial tongue wedged into his cheek. The band’s greatest star had finally learned how to be humble.

Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury was truly awesome, from his authentic facial expressions to his extravagant on-stage movement, the actor must be a contender for an Oscar. He positively transformed into the character – Mr Robot was nowhere to be seen.

The entire movie was a parallel of Freddie Mercury’s life – thrilling to the extreme, ceaselessly troubling, but never boring. Brian May’s euphonious guitar, Roger Taylor’s furious drums, John Deacon’s subterranean bass, and Freddie Mercury’s exceptional voice create an incredible soundtrack, which when combined with the story, forges a captivating film. Four characters who seemed to have little in common, and who on their own were mediocre, formulated genius when working together. We can be thankful for Queen’s turbulent, unhinged passion in producing some of the greatest music of all time, and the film’s creators for making a wonderfully enthralling story, deserving of the band’s glorious legacy.

**

Enjoy this blog? Please share it using the buttons below, it’s a massive help 🙂

 

HOW TABLOIDS ARE RUINING YOUR COUNTRY

The greatest trick that tabloids ever pulled, is convincing the world that they exist for a serious reason. Wikipedia defines tabloids as “a style of journalism that emphasises sensational crime stories, gossip columns about celebrities and sports stars, extreme political views from one perspective, junk food news, and astrology.” This is a news source that is sensationalist by its very definition, and as such, should never be viewed as credible. And yet, millions of people read these publications daily, with the notion that the content is fair, accurate, and to be believed without objection.

In the UK, 7 out of 10 of the country’s most popular newspapers are tabloids, with the Sun positioned at the summit, run by the near-dead super-goblin Rupert Murdoch, a man with the ethics of an SS Officer. On the topic of Germany, their Bild tabloid is Europe’s most circulated newspaper, shifting 2.5 million copies daily. America has the popular New York Post, and Australia the Courier Mail, the latter of which has such a bad reputation that you often see car bumper stickers with the words: “Is it true? Or did you read it in the Courier Mail?”

The problem with this kind of shitty popular journalism is that it spreads bad ideas, often about profoundly critical topics. Brexit is one such example. It would take a writer of great genius to condense and explain the complexities of the European Union to a layman, helping them to make an informed decision about which way to vote. This simply isn’t a task for a tabloid journalist, who usually spend their days writing depthless, entertaining drivel. For whatever underlying political reason, the Sun urged their readers to exit the agreement, and given the newspaper’s popularity in Britain, it can be safely assumed that they helped to claim the victory, with consequences yet to be revealed. With extreme examples such as this, tabloid journalism isn’t just harmless fun, it’s downright dangerous.

Tabloids are ultimately businesses, operating within the entertainment industry. They’ll always print whatever shifts the most papers, regardless of whether the idea is harmful, and using whichever method is required to get the story. Journalists at the former News of the World tabloid hacked the voicemail of a murdered schoolgirl, deleting some of the messages and consequently giving her parents false hope of her survival. They also hacked the phones of the relatives of deceased British soldiers, and victims of the 7 July 2005 London bombings. With those kinds of ethics, it’s clear that the only good use for a tabloid is keeping a copy in the bathroom, for wiping your arse with when the toilet paper has run dry.

Tabloid headlines seek to evoke a self-righteous anger in the reader, with entries such as “FURY AT POLICE IN BURKAS”, “MIGRANT CRISIS: SORT IT NOW”, and “GERMANS DECLARE WAR ON OUR £”. The stronger the emotional response, the more likely it is that the person will buy the newspaper to read more, with the stories themselves often brimming with irrational nonsense. The reader is now angry at the “state of the country” and wonders how Britain ever got into such a mess. It is of course, complete and utter bullshit. The truth might be found in other publications, but tabloid readers don’t really want that, they enjoy being outraged because it elevates them to the high-horse that we all so desperately love to climb onto. Who doesn’t love feeling right? Maybe tabloid readers need to find their self-confidence in more constructive ways.

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with entertainment. But when entertainment masquerades as actual informative news, there’s a big problem. Some topics are highly complex, requiring deep and demanding reporting, with a resulting article that is challenging to read. We have a choice between reading entertaining, emotionally-driven tripe, or more difficult, insightful truth. Good ideas are worth our time, and we’re never going to get them from tabloids, whose primary purpose is not to illuminate the world with truth, but to be as rapacious as possible, with little care for the damage that they cause.

I’ll leave you with this website, the existence of which speaks to the nature of the morally-bankrupt media moguls who run the world of tabloid journalism.

https://isrupertmurdochdead.com/

**

Enjoy this blog? Please share it using the buttons below, it’s a massive help 🙂