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  • Writer's pictureAntti Vanhanen

The Curious Link Between Our Preferences and Boredom

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from

We live in a society that encourages individualism and having clear preferences.

That’s why we ask our kids “what was the favorite part of your day?”.

It’s why you have to make about 17 decisions before you get your cup of coffee at Starbucks.

As a culture, we've learned to equate the ability to choose what we want with freedom.

We believe that more choice = more freedom.

Unfortunately, we are completely blind to the high cost we pay for this type of freedom.

Namely, when you choose a preference, you also define what you don’t want.

And the things we don’t want become the things we need to avoid, because we are biologically programmed to respond to danger over pleasure.

If something scares you or makes you uncomfortable, it’s just common sense to avoid it as best you can.

But every time you choose what you want and don’t want, you limit a part of life.

You cut it out of your life to protect your precious feelings of comfort, predictability, ease, and safety.

For instance, if you don’t like speaking in front of an audience, you will do your best to avoid putting yourself in such situations.

As a result, you start pulling back from certain situations and parts of life where you may be asked to speak to a large group of people.

And just like that, you've just cut out the possibility of leadership positions and visible roles from your career options.

This is how your world shrinks to a smaller and smaller size, because it is only through elimination of uncertain and uncomfortable situations that you can ensure that you don’t have to experience things you don’t like.

At its most extreme, this path leads to people who never leave their homes, always watch the same news, and always eat the same types of food.

In order to control the uncertainty and discomfort of the normal chaos of life, some people will eliminate every possible variable from their lives so they can live in the safe predictability of yesterday.

What's interesting to note is that almost no one ends up at that place knowingly. They just end up there as sort of a final station on a train of small decisions.

The name of that station? Groundhog Day, where every day is the same because nothing new or unpredictable is ever allowed to come in. It’s like living in a museum.

So this is what boredom fundamentally is: the quest for safety, comfort, and predictability taken a step too far.

Boredom is like a stale pool of water that is cut off from the raging river of life.

In this situation, drugs and alcohol are actually quite logical alternatives to many, because they stir the mind that has grown static and stale from being in the same place for too long.

Well, that’s not actually true. What drugs and alcohol do is they create the illusion of the mind being stirred.

What anyone who is bored and stuck wants is to feel alive again.

You’re sick and tired of the safe, boring, and stale bubble wrapped life you’ve been living.

You want to feel excited, surprised, challenged, and like there is meaning to your life.

You want to experience life and make history, not live in a museum of old experiences.

Of course you do.

That’s what we all want.

But exposing yourself to excitement, surprise and challenge means that you will inevitably expose yourself to disappointment, confusion, failure, and loss, too.

You are an instrument of life, which is to say that there is no way to make yourself more sensitive to pleasure without making yourself more sensitive to pain.

Pleasure and pain are the different sides of the same coin.

If you cut yourself off from pain, you cut yourself off from pleasure.

If you choose to experience pleasure, you also choose to experience pain.

That is the deal.

There is no way around it.

And sometimes, it’s scary as hell, and all you want to do is run the other way and hide.

And that’s okay, too.

It only ever becomes a problem when you turn the running away into a strategy.

Because then you become reliant on it and it becomes a reflect rather than a genuine reaction in the moment.

If you run away enough times, you will find yourself backed into a corner, afraid to confront anything that isn’t familiar or doesn’t come with guarantees of pleasure and comfort.

So what I am hoping to help you see is that life is a package deal.

Avoiding pain is pain.

In order to experience excitement, challenge, and surprise again, you have to open yourself up for negative experiences, too.

Perhaps that sounds terrifying to you. I get it.

But ironically, this is what you did your entire childhood.

You oscillated between pleasure and pain, between delight and misery completely effortlessly and easily.

When it was time to laugh, you laughed with all your heart.

When it was time to cry, you sobbed your eyes out.

All of it was completely normal, natural, and spontaneous. You never held back.

And that’s what life is like when you let the walls you’ve been building crumble.

Ease your grip on your preferences, and watch them slowly tumble to the ground.

At first it may be scary and you will struggle to understand why you let go of your precious preferences, but hold still.

Breathe into the discomfort.

And what you will find is that when you allow life to happen, soon you’ll start happening, too.

Life is the dancer, and you are the dance.

So move with the music, my friend, let it take you where it may!

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