Conquering Boredom

Boredom of a Yawn

By Dave Hood

“Is life not a thousand times too short for us to bore ourselves?” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

What is boredom? It is an emotion, often experienced when we have nothing to do or lose interest in the person, situation, place, activity. Our mind begins to wander, perhaps daydream. We are unable to focus our attention. Then we become aware that we’ve lost interest —unable to focus our attention. We often desire to escape the boredom but are unable to. Feeling bored, while oblivious to our surroundings, we usually yawn.

Boredom is a common feature of the human condition. As time passes, we often become bored of our partners, bored with our work, bored with routines of our lives. The more we experience something, the more ordinary it becomes, that is why we decorate our homes, purchase new automobiles, take trips to exotic destinations. Children lose interest in school and seek distractions. Women who work in the home become bored of the routines of housework, cooking the same meals, shopping for groceries, and desire to attend college or work. Commuters are often bored taking the same highway to work, then becoming stuck in traffic, so they call their spouses or listen to audio books or relaxing music. Shoppers become bored waiting in line to pay for their groceries and become agitated or lost in thought. Despite the television, cinema, video games, smartphones, boredom is ubiquitous feature of modern life.

Much has been written by deep thinkers and creative writers about the realities of boredom. Writer Margaret George provides an interesting description:“Boredom is that awful state of inaction when the very medicine ― that is, activity ― which could solve it, is seen as odious. Archery? It is too cold, and besides, the butts need re-covering; the rats have been at the straw. Music? To hear it is tedious; to compose it, too taxing. And so on. Of all the afflictions, boredom is ultimately the most unmanning. Eventually, it transforms you into a great nothing who does nothing ― a cousin to sloth and a brother to melancholy.”

Researchers have discovered three conditions that lead to boredom:
1. Unstimulating environment, such as an office with white walls and no art.
2. Repetition of a task, perhaps working on an assembly line.
3. Vigilance, in which a person is forced to pay attention, for instance, sitting in a church, listening to a sermon.

Not all boredom is the same. Researchers have identified five types of boredom:
Indifferent boredom. It’s a relaxing, pleasant, emotion in response to a situation where you have no desire to do something. For instance, after a long day at work, you return home, lounge in the lazy boy chair, turn on the television set, and daydream while gazing indifferently at the sitcom.

  • Calibrating boredom. You’re in a situation you don’t want to be. Perhaps you desire to escape, and you ponder all the alternative activities you’d rather be experiencing.
  • Searching boredom. You are restless, and seeking distractions, or desiring to change your environment. Perhaps you feel stuck in a dull job and dream of finding something different, something better. Perhaps your relationship has lost its passion, and now you seek something new, something different.
  • Reactant boredom. You feel trapped and frustrated—and unable to escape the situation. For example, children in public school often experience this type of boredom. Instead of having fun on the swings or slide, they must listen to the teacher giving instructions on spelling.
  • Apathetic boredom. You feel relaxed and withdrawn, indifferent to the world around you. Perhaps you are engaged in the daily ritual of sitting on the deck, reading the morning paper, sipping coffee— the news seems the same— boring. It’s as if you have experienced the event before.

Consequences of Boredom
What happens when we become bored? Several things: Our minds speed up and time slows down. Our heart rate increases, and the body releases the stress hormone cortisol into the blood stream. Sometimes boredom is relaxing, but other times it is stressful, especially a person experiences too much of it.

And boredom can result in behaviour that sabotages our health, safety, success, well-being. Many people eat when their bored, resulting in obesity. Some people develop the habit of escaping boredom by getting high on illicit drugs or drinking alcohol excessively. Unending boredom can make a person tired, apathetic, depressed. At school, children are taught to remain quiet and pay attention. Some children feel bored, lose their attention, and have difficulty learning. Some people must work in dull jobs, which reduces their motivation, resulting in poor performance and absenteeism. Those who are bored often feel that life is meaningless and lacking purpose, which can result in anxiety, depression, drug or alcohol abuse. Many people who are bored engage in risky behaviour, such as seeking excitement by engaging in unprotected sex, sex outside of marriage, sex with prostitutes, sex with multiple partners. Those who have unprotected sex can acquire a sexually transmitted disease, like HIV. Researchers have learned that boredom in teenagers can lead to vandalism, rioting, hooliganism. Thrill seekers are those who are bored with their regular lives, and so they engage in high risk behavior, such as parachuting out of a plane, racing a car at high speed, rock climbing up a steep mountain. Many thrill seekers have died from their misadventures.

Remedies for Boredom
Boredom is a frequently a personal choice. We choose to live a boring life by being indifferent to our circumstance. Or we don’t know how to escape boredom, and don’t make the effort to find out. Other times, we cannot extricate ourselves from the conditions of boredom, and so we are trapped in boredom. Many people use their smart phone when bored. This is a short-term fix and not always an option, especially if you cannot use the digital gadgets in a particular place. How can we make our lives continuously interesting? Here are a few other suggestions for conquering boredom:

1. Plan to distract yourself when you anticipate a boring situation. For instance, while sitting in the doctor’s office, complete the crossword puzzle or Sudoku in the newspaper. When you know that you’ll have to wait, take a good book or the newspaper, and read it while waiting.

2. Learn a new skill. Do you have any dreams? Desires? Passions? Take up the piano, creative writing, digital photography, ballroom dancing, anything you perceive to be interesting and pleasurable.

3. Socialize with others. Spend time with friends who have a sense of humour, who enjoy doing new things, who are interesting, who see life as an adventure to be explored.

4. Make physical fitness part of your daily routine. Engage in fitness program you find enjoyable. Some people prefer to exercise on their own. Yoga, weight training, walking, jogging, swimming are challenging activities you can do by yourself. Other people prefer to be with others or participate in a group. Activities you can do with others include squash, tennis, hockey, baseball, bowling.

5. Embrace your passions. What do you enjoy? Do you have a dream? Take steps to making it become a reality. Suppose you dream of becoming a published writing. You might begin writing in a journal. Then enrolling in a few creative writing courses. Then reading poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction.

6. Change your environment. For instance, if you are bored with your workplace, find a new job. If you are bored with your courses at university, enroll on others. If you home is dull and drab, paint it another colour and hang a painting or photograph.

7. Break the routines of your daily life. In other words, do something new. Develop new friendships, take a new route to work, eat at a new restaurant, see a new film, watch a new show on television.

8. Become creative. Everyone is creative in some way, but many people tell themselves, “I’m not creative.” This negative mindset prevents them from taking steps to live the creative life. You can overcome this creative block by participating in creative activities. You might visit an art gallery or see s rock concert or purchase tickets to a film. If you are artistically skilled, you can start sketching, drawing, painting, sculpting, taking photographs. If you are not sure how, enroll in some art courses or learn by reading books and magazines.

9. Find answers for your curiosities. It is the desire to know more about something. There are several ways to obtain answers. Reading about the topic is a good way to learn. Another is immersing yourself in a new experience, for instance, traveling to a new city country, where you learn about culture, cuisine, art, and people. Searching on the Internet for your answer is another. Enrolling in a course, with the intention of becoming a subject matter expert, is a popular method of feeding your hungry curiosities. American writer and poet, Dorothy Parker, once said, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

10. Become mindful. Use your senses to explore what is unfolding in the present moment. What do you see? Hear? Feel? Smell? Taste? Make a mental note. Write down the details in a notebook or journal. Take some pictures with your smartphone. While mindful, focus your attention on the creative elements of line, shape, form, texture, land colour. Most public spaces and people can become interesting by noticing the details. The artist, Andy Warhol, once said, “You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.”

11. Learn to meditate. Once you have learned, make meditation a way to combat boring experiences. Suppose you are in a boring place that you cannot escape, perhaps in a waiting room of the dentist office, and begin to feel bored. Close your eyes and meditate, focusing on your breathe. It will clear and calm your mind, help you develop peace of mind.

12. Engage in flow experiences. Flow is a mental state, a positive emotion, that will contribute to personal well-being. You become so immersed in the experience that you lose all track of time, and so the experience becomes stimulating to the psyche, rewarding, something you desire to do again . Positive psychologists, such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, refer to this as the psychology of optimal experience. You must have focused attention. You must also be a participant in on some a challenging, attainable experience that has a goal. The experience is also intrinsically rewarding. You become so immersed that you experience timelessness. You gain feedback from the experience and have a sense of control. Flow is generally associated with an activity you really enjoy, immerse yourself in, feel a sense of pleasure, loss of self consciousness, enriching, rewarding, such as career, writing, painting, running, dancing.

A boring situation, a drab environment, a dull personality, the daily grind of routine, unending repetition of a mindless task—these contribute to boredom. Boredom is an undesirable state of mind, which we often take steps to escape. If you are bored, change those aspects of your life that cause the wave of boredom to sweep over you. You can always distract yourself from boredom. Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “The two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom.” By eliminating or reducing the amount of time you feel bored, you will increase your happiness, life satisfaction, and well-being.
Additional Reading
To learn more on how to combat boredom, read the following:

  • Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  • Happiness by Tal Ben-Shahar
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About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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