Thursday, July 17, 2014

Shocked, I’m shocked. (Not really.)

The other day, I had lunch with a friend, a woman my age. Like me, K is a widow. Unlike me, she’s been a widow for more than a decade, while today I’m marking my fourth montliversary.

One topic covered in our rambling conversation was what aspects of widowhood were difficult, and which ones weren’t especially bothersome.

Although K has been at it a lot longer than I, we both hit upon not being able to go on trips with our husbands as one of the most painful things to go through. (Going on vacations had been important to both K and myself.)

But we also both talked about how, in general, spending a lot of time by ourselves didn’t bother us at all – never had (before or after being widowed), and probably never would. Neither one of us is, or aspires to be, a recluse. But we both like biding our time all by our lonesomes, that’s for sure.

As has always been the case, a lot of my “me time” is taken up with reading.

But I also take long walks – something I used to do regularly with Jim, but now do on my own. Admittedly, I occasionally find myself going over to the dark side and making a phone call on my walk, but I’m trying to make those walks either quietly observational or blanked out mind treks. I’m also perfectly content to stare out into space, sitting on a bench in the Public Garden, or to stare out into Jim’s pride and joy 48” flat screen (turned off) sitting on the living room couch.

Nope, not being able to spend enough time in my own head has never been one of my problems.

But there’s a study out that shows the shocking degree to which many folks will go to avoid being alone with their thoughts.

I shouldn’t be all that surprised. We are, after all, a nation of doers not thinkers. Still, it’s a bit shocking to learn that so many people would rather withstand an electrical shock than sit doing nothing for 15 minutes. But that’s what a recent experiment found.

Being alone with no distractions was so distasteful to two-thirds of men and a quarter of women that they elected to give themselves mild electric shocks rather than sit quietly in a room with nothing but the thoughts in their heads, according to a study from the University of Virginia. (Source: Bloomberg)

The study was multi-part, and involved relatively small groups, but those groups spanned age, profession, etc.

There was no evidence that any group, based on age, education, income or social media usage, was more likely to appreciate time spent in reflection.

The study originally started out with students, and researchers found that the kids got bored pretty darned easily, and disliked the experience of having nothing to do.

Naturally, a lot of us would want to chalk this up to the “always on” generation’s being singularly incapable of being calm, self-reflecting Zen gods like ourselves.

But, like all good researchers, the UVA folks forged on, so they tested:

…whether volunteers would prefer an unpleasant activity -- an electric shock -- rather than no activity at all.

And damned if a majority of the men, and one-quarter of the women, decided that – even though ahead of time, after they’d tested the 9 volt jolt and deemed it painful, after they’d said that “they would pay to avoid” the shock – with nothing better to do than think, they’d give themselves a bit of a shock to kill some time.

Maybe if I had to sit there for 15 hours with nothing to do, I might decide to stick my finger in the socket, metaphorically speaking. But 15 minutes? Don’t people have issues to think through? Conversations to replay? Slights to fret about? Problems to solve? Joyful experiences they want to recall? (Sorrowful experiences they want to wallow in?)

The most telling participants said they were bored, and giving themselves a shock was better than being bored, [lead researcher Timothy] Wilson said.

“Maybe the mind is built to exist in the world, and people would prefer to have a negative experience rather than none at all,” he said.

Talk about needing to live for the moment.

I don’t know about the study participants, but my memory bank is sufficiently full, my task list sufficiently crammed, my life sufficiently full and vexing, that I have plenty of things I can mull about.

Think I’ll put my laptop aside and cogitate on why there are so many folks out there who can’t stand to just sit there and think.

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