In a culture where “ADD” has become a slang word, is there actually an upside to losing focus, getting bored, or yearning for some excitement? Does life seem incredibly busy but somehow mundane at the same time?
“Novelty-seeking” is a personality trait often associated with alcoholism, gambling, drug abuse, and extreme sports, and it can sometimes lead to antisocial behavior. On the other hand, novelty-seeking can also be a key ingredient to a long, rewarding, and fulfilling life by propelling discovery, challenge, growth, and well-being. We may seek novelty by learning and reading, through travel or adventure sports, new music or “novel” relationships with interesting people.
At the end of yoga class last week, as I was savoring Savasana (Corpse Pose) and reflecting on how thankful I was that my “novelty-seeking” had led me to be right where I was at that very instant, my fabulous instructor, Stacy, made reference to our need to “balance ease and effort.” Later that evening I gave Stacy’s words more thought. Balancing ease and effort can certainly be interpreted in countless ways, yet each interpretation is relevant. Our relationships require ease (comfort, trust, affection) and effort (support, empathy, patience); our jobs require ease (confidence, experience, talent) and effort (growth, learning, stretching); so too, our lives require ease (rest, peace, contentment) and effort (exertion, exploration, novelty). Is it the balance of ease and effort that distinguishes healthy novelty-seekers from erratic maniacs? I had to know and so the research began..
In his article, “What’s New? Exuberance for Novelty Has Benefits,” New York Times columnist, John Tierney reveals that novelty-seeking, in the right combination with other traits, contributes to personal well being. He writes,
Dr. Cloninger, a professor of psychiatry and genetics at Washington University in St. Louis, traced people using a personality test he developed two decades ago, The Temperament and Character Inventory. By administering the test periodically and chronicling changes in people’s lives over more than a decade, he and colleagues looked for the crucial combination of traits in people who flourished over the years – the ones who reported the best health, most friends, fewest emotional problems, and greatest satisfaction with life.
What was the secret to their happy temperament and character? A trio of traits. They scored high in novelty-seeking as well as in persistence and self-transcendence.
So there it was: novelty-seeking contributes to a flourishing life when coupled with ease (self-transcendence) and effort (persistence). Dr. Cloninger defines “self-transcendence” as, “the capacity to get lost in the moment doing what you love to do, to feel a connection to nature, humanity and the universe.” And, of course, we know first hand that tenacity and effort are components of “persistence.”
When you say, think, or hear the dreaded words, “I’m borrrreeeddd,” do not rush to squelch it with a quick game of Angry Birds or a chocolate cookie – embrace it! Feeling bored signals that it is time to grow in any of countless ways and to explore something new within the safe confines of self-transcendence and persistence – ease and effort. Don’t allow your novelty-seeking to become a short-lived impulse – be persistent and engage in something meaningful, fulfilling, and/or exciting. Perhaps you want to enroll in a new class, plan a vacation, join a special interest club, try a new sport, train for a marathon, initiate a family tradition, or learn to cook. You are too busy to be bored! Be well.