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Crisis [Not] Averted: The Effects of MidCrisom

Carl Weathers sits at his desk in his average-sized office. He stares at the neutral-tone walls as his average-sized frame rests in an average-sized desk chair of average comfort. He sighs once, and swivels his attention to the 3×5 picture of his family sitting on his desk in a plain brown frame. An average family, with the husband and wife smiling, one arm around their son and daughter and one around each other. The daughter, the eldest, looks slightly less enthused to be there: her smile is strained, as if thinking, “I can only stand to be with these people for the amount of time it takes to take one more picture. Then I’m out of here.” The son, too young to be able to focus on a single activity for any drawn-out period of time, stares off in a different direction than that of the camera lens, captivated by something out of the frame.

Carl Weathers stares intently at the picture for a long time, until the people blur into one large mass in the middle of the frame. He wonders, not for the first time, how he arrived at this specific point in time. How did he end up with a family, with this family? Not that he didn’t want a family. He loved them dearly. It was just…he hadn’t accomplished what he thought he would have with his life by now. At 20, he had believed he would one day be a youthful yet respected gentleman, revered by colleagues and direct reports for his accomplishments at the ripe old age of 40. Now, at 45, he was yet to reach that caliber in his field. He was beginning to wonder, would he ever? He had always felt like his life would stretch on indefinitely, and only when he had finally been as successful as he’d wanted to be, when he’d finally made an impact on the world, would it end peacefully, while he was sleeping. Instead, he was still being passed over for promotions; it was like he didn’t even matter—like if he didn’t exist, the world would be the same place it was today.

This was not the first time Carl Weathers had thought about this. In fact, he had been thinking about the purpose of his life rather frequently ever since his mother had passed away two months ago. He wondered if anyone else felt this way; if he had anyone who felt the same way he did. His wife, Mary, didn’t seem to be much happier with her life—but then again, she seemed to be more exhausted than unhappy. Between her job, managing the kids’ lives, and running the household, she ran on little sleep and was often extremely stressed by the amount she needed to accomplish in the 20 short hours she was awake every day. Carl knew this because Mary did not hesitate to vocalize her feelings. Still, at the end of the day she seemed satisfied with her life, and found what she did to be fulfilling, even if it was the source of extreme stress in the moment. What he felt wasn’t stress—it was as if he was trying to hold onto something that was slipping out of his hands faster than he could think grasp at it.

Flash forward six months, and Carl appears to be a completely different person. The conservative, relaxed-fit suits and sensible loafers have been replaced with trendier attire. Now, Carl is only seen in skinny ties, pointy brogues, and trendier, fitted pants and jackets better suited for the body of a 25-year-old model than a slightly overweight middle-aged father. He’s changed jobs twice, claiming to be searching for ‘a career he is passionate about and finds fulfilling’. He often comes home well after midnight, claiming to be swamped with work but smelling like booze and women’s perfume. If she had the energy, his wife, Mary, would say something. She would worry more about their relationship and the future of their family. But she doesn’t. She hopes that it’s just a phase, and that he’ll come back to his senses and go back to being his old self.

What Carl Weathers exhibits is a classic example of MidCrisom. MidCrisom is a type of boredom that can lay dormant in a person for years, silently developing until one day it rears its ugly head in the form of what society deems a ‘midlife crisis’. There are specific criteria that must be met in order to classify a type of boredom ‘MidCrisom’ or an event or series of events a result of MidCrisom, and there is a very specific process that those afflicted with it go through.  

  • MidCrisom is the type of boredom one feels before entering the stage of one’s life called the ‘midlife crisis.’ It is a type of profound boredom, which is defined by Heidegger, a German philosopher, as “being bored by boredom itself.” MidCrisom is the specific type of profound boredom that leads to the onset of a midlife crisis. A midlife crisis is when adults come to realize their own mortality and how much time is left in their lives (Elliott Jaques, 1965). Midlife crises occur because one wants to go back to a time when his or her life was full of possibility and meaning, instead of coming to terms with the realization that his or her life has been unproductive and pointless. This realization is catalyzed by the boredom that the individual feels with being bored by the events in his or her life thus far. The feeling that one’s existence is pointless is a large part of profound boredom, so dealing with MidCrisom is ultimately dealing with this ‘problem of boredom’ in one’s life.
  • MidCrisom affects individuals between the ages of 40-60, or when one’s life is about halfway over. It tends to last longer in men than in women, from 4-10 years in men compared to 2-5 years in women. This is because men tend to vocalize their feelings less frequently than women do. Not addressing the problem of MidCrisom only makes its effects worse. Since women talk about their problems more, they are more likely to come to terms with MidCrisom and find a coping mechanism.
  • In order for MidCrisom to manifest itself in the form of a midlife crisis, a specific trigger event must occur. First, the individual becomes aware of his or her mortality. This could happen when one finds him- or herself bored by the boredom caused by his or her routine, due to the repetition of activities that one is not interested in, nor caring about the outcome of said activities. This is an important distinction, because activities where its outcome is more important than the boredom caused by that activity do not lead to MidCrisom. MidCrisom starts to develop into a midlife crisis when the individual is more affected by the boredom caused by the activity than its result, or gets nothing out of the activity and its result. This leads the individual to question why he or she continues to participate in these activities and reflect on what he or she has accomplished during his or life so far. The aging of those around the individual, such as his or her children or even the death of a parent or loved one, can also trigger MidCrisom. Either one of these events lead to the individual’s awareness of his or her’s mortality and the realization that one has not accomplished what he or she wanted to during his or her youth, leading to the questioning of one’s purpose in life.
  • Next, the individual experiences the side effects of MidCrisom. The most prevalent side effects are adultery, the Aesthetic Revolution, and living vicariously through children or the youths in the individual’s life. All of these side effects of MidCrisom are only temporary, shallow escapes from the thought of one’s life being meaningless. Adultery provides a temporary escape from the mundane married life in which the individual afflicted with MidCrisom can feel some new type of emotion, or feel anything at all. The Aesthetic Revolution is when one completely changes his or her appearance, usually to a trendier image to feel more youthful. It involves complete wardrobe, hair, and accessory makeovers. It often also involves the individual trying to incorporate contemporary slang into every day conversation. The Aesthetic Revolution, too, is a temporary fix, and can easily be changed or reverted back to the individual’s presentation pre-MidCrisom. The individual may even put pressure on the youth closest to them to act in a certain way or participate in certain activities in order to live vicariously through them. All of these side effects are due to the individual’s denial that his or her life is meaningless, and are attempts to feel like he or she has regained the youthful ignorance of life’s meaninglessness.
  • MidCrisom is a fairly new concept. It has only been recently defined, dating back only to the 1950s. There is not much research that has been conducted on MidCrisom, so there are many false conclusions that have made their way into society. The most common misconception is that it mainly afflicts western countries, due to their “culture of youth”.  This is the mentality of valuing the aesthetics of youth more than the wisdom that most often comes with age. Instead of embracing the process of aging and viewing it as a sign of maturity and greater wisdom, many westerners panic at the first sight of any wrinkles around their eyes. Even though this culture of youth is more prevalent in western countries, it is not the cause of MidCrisom. MidCrisom may seem shallow due to its shallow side effects, but underneath the Aesthetic Revolution lies a deeper, more existentialistic problem: it is one’s struggle to come to terms with the meaninglessness of one’s life.
  • MidCrisom is not to be confused with MidStressom. MidStressom is a boredom that arises around the same time as MidCrisom in one’s life, which is why the two are often confused. However, MidStressom is not a feeling of a lack of something, but rather a feeling of being overwhelmed by one’s responsibilities. For example, Carl Weather’s wife Mary was feeling MidStressom. She experienced feelings of unhappiness similar to those of Carl’s, but instead of questioning her life’s purpose, she accepted the tasks that she needed to accomplish and, in the end, was satisfied by the outcomes. Midstressom is anxiety or boredom during the activities, and may lead to some questioning of why one is participating in the stress-causing activities, but ultimately feels satisfied with their results. With MidCrisom, the individual just feels empty and pointless.
  • MidCrisom does not lead to a self-realization. The side effects of MidCrisom lead to a fake one that is simply a cry for help. A true self-realization is when one finds a specific problem with one aspect of his or her life and changes it once. A fake self-realization, which is caused by MidCrisom, is when people half-heartedly change many different aspects of their lives—for example, trying many different occupations rather than switching jobs once, getting a divorce as opposed to having one or more affairs, or even getting a haircut versus going through an Aesthetic Revolution.  A MidCrisomistic fake-realization is more akin to aimless wandering, stopping to dabble in many different things, whereas a true self-realization is a purposeful movement towards a specific destination with a clear goal. It is as if a revolution inside the individual has started and cannot be stopped until the objective is reached. The aimless aspect of MidCrisom is due to desperation the individual feels for any type of feeling that his or life has meaning or purpose.
  • The consequences of MidCrisom could lead to very dire situations in an individual’s life. The questioning of one’s existence could lead to negative or even destructive outcomes, many of which could end in self-ruination (either of mind or body, or both). However, all hope is not lost for an afflicted individual. Most people come back to their lives pre-MidCrisom after coming to terms with the fact that they will not accomplish everything.

There is no known cure for MidCrisom. Not much research has been done on MidCrisom, as it is a fairly new concept. It took many years for researchers to even identify and categorize MidCrisom, so it could be many years before any there are any breakthroughs in MidCrisom research. As of now, it just needs to be waited out. One must go through the complete MidCrisomistic cycle, from the realization of mortality to the Aesthetic Revolution, and then must decide where to go from there. The best coping mechanism known to man is the acceptance that one’s life is meaningless, and that one will not necessarily accomplish everything he or she set out to accomplish at a young age. The worst way that an individual could attempt to rid him- or herself of MidCrisom is to fight it. Like tar, the harder one tries to fight it, the more it pulls him or her in, and the more detrimental the effects will be on the individual. There is only one factor that dictates the ultimate outcome of MidCrisom: the mentality of the individual. One must decide how to let it affect him or her, and, consequently, the rest of his or her life.

 

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The Paradox of Boredom

There are many opposing views on boredom. Some say that it is a necessary evil that one must accept and then move on with life. Others say that it is just evil and must be fought with all the strength one can muster, and if one succumbs to it, he or she is doomed. What exactly is boredom? Which view, or views, applies to boredom in reality? Is it something that needs to be dealt with and overcome, or embraced with open arms?

Boredom is neither and both of those things.  It is a paradox. Boredom has a paradoxical effect on modern society in the sense that it can lead to both positive and negative results. It inspires one to seek out activities to fill his or her time in a meaningful manner, whose outcomes can have positive or terrible impacts on society. Boredom itself is neither a good nor bad thing; peoples’ responses to boredom are the things that positively or negatively impact society.

 

 History of Boredom

It is important to delve into a subject’s history when trying to fully understand and articulate one’s views on it: therefore, I will begin by discussing the history of boredom. Only recently, starting in the 1930s, have psychologists and philosophers taken an interest in the concept of boredom and have studied it intensely (McRobbie). The term hasn’t been around for very long, in comparison to human civilization.

Boredom first appeared in the English language in 1852. However, the concept has been around as early as the second century AD, called ‘acedia’, and defined as the listlessness and restlessness mainly afflicted those with a large amount of time unoccupied by the basic necessities of life on their hands, such as monks or the wealthy upper class. It was considered to be a sin akin to sloth and a rejection of God and the Divine Creation by the Christians. During the Renaissance, it was considered to be less of a sin and more of a type of depression caused by prolonged studying of math and science. It evolved further to the French term ‘ennui’ in the 1600s, which encompassed listlessness and displeasure closer to that of boredom (McRobbie).

For the full article on boredom’s history, click here: 

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/The-History-of-Boredom-180161211.html

 

What we know today as boredom is considered to be a modern concept, and culmination of the evolution of acedia into ennui and now casually used to describe any feeling loosely related to disinterest or listlessness in every day life. It is important to understand how boredom came to be defined as it is today in order to fully understand it; after all, as Nietzsche says, one cannot “base themselves on man at a particular period of time and then turn [that] into an eternal truth.” In order to make a statement about boredom that holds true for all instances, as opposed to just one, it is imperative to discuss its many facets instead of just one portion.

 

 

 

 

Types of Boredom and Their Impacts on Society

            There are two main types of boredom that philosophers and psychologists focus on: situational, or mundane, boredom, and profound boredom. Situational boredom is the act of being ‘bored by’, or a momentary feeling of boredom that will quickly pass. Profound boredom, on the other hand, is the act of being bored with boredom: it is the type of boredom that is considered by many to be an existential problem.

            Situational boredom can be described as a ‘lighter’ type of boredom that can easily be overcome. One feels this type of boredom when one experiences a momentary lack of activity or disinterest in an activity, but knows that it is only temporary. This type of boredom, since it can be easily overcome, leads one to find productive means to occupy is his or her time. This type of boredom often leads one to find something meaningful to do with one’s time, because it is easy to identify the problem and overcome it.

            Profound boredom is a much ‘darker’, deeper category of boredom. It is often described as an indicator of one’s ‘existential crisis’ by philosophers such as Heidegger, a German philosopher, and Lars Svendsen, a Swedish philosopher. This kind of boredom is harder to overcome, so it leads to more drastic measures. Instead of simply finding a way to productively occupy time, it leads people who feel it to question the point of the their existence, which is a question much harder to answer than “what should I do now?” This type of boredom is very hard to identify: many mistake it for depression or other psychological afflictions that are just the consequences of profound boredom. Profound boredom leads people to question their purpose in life, often eliminates hope and leads them to partake in actions that have negative impacts on society. This is the ‘evil’ side of boredom that many philosophers apply to the conclusions they draw about boredom. However, just as boredom doesn’t always lead to productiveness, it doesn’t always end in an individual or societal catastrophe.

 

Philosophers’ Views On Boredom

            Boredom is a highly debated topic among philosophers. Since boredom is multifaceted, there are many different perspectives of it that contradict each other. In order to discuss the paradoxical affects of boredom on modern society, it is first important to compare and contrast philosophers’ views on the subject. The two ideas discussed here, Kierkegaard’s and Huxley’s, by no means encompass every philosopher’s idea of boredom, but represent either extremes of the spectrum. There are many other ideas that fall between Kierkegaard’s and Huxley’s ideas, but these two give the main idea of the range of ideas about boredom.

            Kierkegaard’s view of boredom can be summarized in one quotation: “Boredom is the root of all evil.” Kierkegaard believes that boredom will lead to destructive behaviors, so in order to avoid these behaviors, one must be free of commitment. This includes no committed friendships or relationships—if one gets bored with the other, destructive habits, such as extramarital affairs, occur, or feelings are hurt. Kierkegaard’s method also includes avoiding taking a steady job, because taking a job will ensure that one will lose him or herself to the working machine, and will forever be doomed to live a monotonous, boredom-ridden life.

            Contrary to Kierkegaard’s view of boredom and its consequences, author Aldous Huxley believes boredom to be an indicator of freedom, of which he is an avid advocator. He states, “Your true traveller finds boredom rather agreeable than painful. It is the symbol of his liberty – his excessive freedom. He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically, but almost with pleasure.” Whereas Kierkegaard says that boredom is an indicator of commitment, Huxley states that it is an indicator of freedom, and the freedom to choose how one’s time is spent, and one should embrace boredom rather than trying to perpetually evade it.

            Even though these two ideas contradict each other, neither is necessarily wrong. Boredom’s consequences can be destructive: profound boredom, for example, can drive a person to depression and either harm his or herself, or others. It can also indicate that one is fortunate enough to not have to worry about the basic necessities of life, or that one has achieved true freedom. Boredom doesn’t have to be one or the other: it is both. The consequences of boredom rely solely on the responses of the individuals whom it afflicts.  

            For more quotes by philosophers or authors pertaining to boredom, click here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201301/25-quotes-boredom

 

 

Boredom: A Personal Experience

            Most of the time, I don’t mind being bored. I love doing nothing. Not even in the sense of not being productive and watching TV: I consider that to be doing something. I just love sitting and thinking. Even as a kid, I never saw boredom or lack of activity as a bad thing: I would simply find something interesting to do when left to my own devices. I remember reading until there were more books stacked up on the table beside me than there were on the shelves, or creating my own entertainment, making up games or stories that would continue for hours.

            The only times I remember not liking being bored was when I was forced to partake in an activity I hated. Doing nothing never bothered me: I only hated participating in activities that I had absolutely no interest in. For example, it would take me half an hour to do 30 math assignments, but all day to write three pages of analysis for our latest English assignment. The reason? I could easily focus on integrals: I couldn’t on The Sun Also Rises. Instead, I would check Facebook, or twitter; I’d leave, hang out with my friends, and come back only to stare at the blank page for another half hour before catching up on the TV shows I hadn’t seen that week. This type of boredom resulted in nothing productive: it only ended in wasting time I would never get back.

            The main point of this anecdote is that boredom isn’t always a bad thing. It’s only bad if you make it bad. Boredom itself is the same feeling no matter what: the only consequences are those that you bring upon yourself.

                                                                        —Anonymous, Journal entry, 2010

 

Juxtaposing the Effects of Boredom

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The effects of boredom can be viewed as a yin yang. The yin yang is a juxtaposition of the contrasting ideas and the paradoxical nature of boredom. Boredom can lead to self-enlightenment or self-destruction. It doesn’t lead to only either enlightenment or destruction, though; it causes both, under different circumstances. The same goes for philosophical conclusions about boredom. No matter how strong an argument about boredom that it leads to a certain thing or a certain outcome and only that outcome, there will always be holes in the argument that leave room to argue the opposite. Neither argument is necessarily wrong; there can be two opposing truths about boredom that simultaneously exist, which is why boredom is paradoxical.

Boredom is a paradox of inspiring meaningfulness while drawing attention to meaninglessness. It is inescapable: it afflicts the young, the old, the rich, and the poor. It lends itself to the larger paradox of modernity, which is that societal and technological advancements are simultaneously constructive and destructive. Modernity and what society deems to be advancements are not themselves ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but rather how society uses them and applies them to situations. A knife itself neither possesses ‘good’ nor ‘evil’: it can be used to cut open a fruit, which is a good source of vitamins for the human body, or to take someone’s life. Such is the situation of boredom: boredom itself is not good or bad, but can be utilized to motivate a good deed or to justify a bad one. Peoples’ reactions to boredom can be deemed ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and it is these reactions that are often confused with boredom itself, which creates the false generalization of the entire concept. It is not necessarily a problem, nor does it need to be overcome. One must accept that it exists, and then decide how to let it affect his or her actions.

 

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Cathedral of Learning-the BBOC (Big Building on Campus)

Cathedral of Learning-the BBOC (Big Building on Campus)

Every day, I walk down the hill to class. I walk out the same doors, wave to the same security guard that is always on duty when I leave and pass the same people with schedules similar to mine. I alternate between two routes, depending on what my first class of the day is. On the days when I take the Chevron stairs, I always pause at the top for a moment, even if I’m running late, to admire the Cathedral of Learning. It rises regally above every other building on lower campus, towering over the tallest trees and offsetting the smokestack-like figures of the Towers with its asymmetrical, rectangular aesthetic.
Almost every Pitt student has at least ten pictures of the Cathedral, fondly referred to as ‘Cathy’, from at least three different angles. Those with Instagram accounts post a picture of the Cathedral at least once each season and time of day, using different filters in attempts to set this new picture apart from the other 4,237 pictures of the Cathedral. They take the obligatory back-to-school photo in the last days of summer, another when the leaves start to change color, when the first snow falls, and finally when the trees start to bloom in the spring. They capture it at sunrise, midday, sunset, or at midnight. They take pictures on ordinary days, or at the pep rally before the first game of the football season.
I took this particular picture on a warm fall day as I was on my way to the library with a group of friends for a long study session. We stopped to take pictures of the Cathedral surrounded by the red and golden trees against the perfect blue sky with a few strategically placed clouds as a backdrop. Even though I had already uploaded at least five pictures and saved about a dozen more over the course of the semester, I had to take this one, since it immortalized the extraordinary beauty in an otherwise ordinary Sunday afternoon.
The inside of the Cathedral is even more captivating than the outside. While it does contain ordinary classrooms and floors of office space, its first few floors can make one feel like he or she has been transported to Hogwarts and inspire one to be extremely studious. The view from the top floor is incredible: each side of the building shows a different aspect of Pittsburgh that can be seen for miles. Even after three months or studying there, I am always happening upon new rooms, study spots, or quiet alcoves where I can just sit and enjoy the view of the lawn.
Non-Pitt students don’t understand our captivation with this one building. They ask, why do you only send us pictures of the same tall building? Aren’t there any other tall buildings in Pittsburgh? Aren’t there any other buildings in Pittsburgh? What makes this one so special?
The Pitt student body will never lose its fascination with the Cathedral. It is a source of pride for the student body, as well as for the administration, as it is plastered on every folder, flyer, and pamphlet geared towards new or prospective students, and is also featured on every student’s panther card. We find beauty in something that we could easily take for granted. The documentation of its changing surroundings signify the passage of time, and how something so constant can still have something new to offer from different perspectives.

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by | November 11, 2013 · 8:19 pm