The two sides of boredom

Boredom: The state in which every tick of the clock is amplified and punctures holes in time.

We all live a different amount of time. Someone of 100 years old has lived for 5.200 weeks. Me myself, I have lived for around 1.330 weeks when I write this. That means that if I’m lucky enough to make it to 100, I have 3.870 weeks left. Around 3 times the amount I have lived until today. But if I just make it till 70 years old, I have ‘only’ 2.310 weeks left (Kurzgesagt, 2017). But whatever amount of time is given to me, I will have boring moments throughout that time. 

I think we can agree on one thing: being bored is unpleasant.

When you are bored, nothing in that moment seems to make you enthusiastic, not even for a tiny bit. This also happens in another, more heavy unpleasant feeling: depression. Because although many people often think that depression is just being really, really sad, it is more a very strong feeling of indifference towards the world and even your loved ones and your life. Depression is like living in an Andrei Tarkovsky movie in black and white where you can’t seem to get out of. Where every smile from you or another person doesn’t seem to make the world a more beautiful place. And indeed, study has shown that long-term boredom can lead to depression (Schuessler, J., 2010). 

Boredom is defined in different ways. But the definition that I see as most accurate is: 

A moment in time in which all the options for possible activities do not appeal to you (Veritasium, 2018).

Boredom is characterised by a lack of concentration, restlessness and feeling lethargic (Veritasium, 2018). This also creates the situation in which you are not going to do unpleasant tasks when you are bored. Even when you have a lot of time on your hands. Although in contrast, some research says you get work done, when you are bored, because you are bored (Scientific American, 2007). And I’m willing to accept research that does not match with my personal experience as the truth. Or at least a form of it.   

Nowadays, there are many ways to escape from boredom. And then I’m talking about social media, television and the internet. But is it good to try to avoid boredom? For me it is not. I spent too much time on social media platforms when I was bored. That’s why I deleted most of the social media apps on my phone. Because of this, I’m bored more often, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

What I said about boredom being unpleasant is meant. But so is thinking and that gives me a lot of wisdom. Also, boredom is one of the most natural states the mind can be in. So definitely if you believe that everything happens for a reason, so does boredom. Also, it seems to be part of the human existence to be disinterested in anything particular happening in a specific moment in time (boredom), since it was found that signs of boredom existed 2.000 years ago (Vsauce, 2013). During boredom, your mind wanders and is not fixed on anything in particular. This ‘mind wandering’ sparks creativity (Veritasium, 2018). This potential for creativity is lost when you fill that time with, for instance, social media. This subject of boredom also makes me think if I would be extremely bored, when I would be living in the ancient Pompeii, 2.000 years ago. Because there are so many things nowaday that we use to not be bored… This imagination changes to just ‘me living 2.000 years ago’ (without the ‘being bored’ part). When did this imagination start? When I was bored… Boredom stimulates imagination.   

But there are other advantages of boredom: it makes you more altruistic, likely to assess your current state and makes you work on well defined and meaningful goals for yourself in the future (Veritasium, 2018). In Mihaly Csikszentmihályi’s flow chart, that I used to explain flow in my piece about Focus, there is also the ‘pie piece’ boredom

Mihaly Csikszentmihályi’s flow chart (Marczewski, A., 2012)

And you can see that it is at the other side of Flow. But that doesn’t mean it is per definition bad. Even stronger, boredom can give you the intrinsic motivation to change your current state for the better.

I didn’t write this piece while I was bored. But I did write it after I was bored this whole afternoon.

There are two sides of boredom. In Victor’s The pursuit of Happiness piece, I wrote a paragraph about always wanting to be happy is the ‘illness’ of our time and we shouldn’t always try to achieve it. A bit the same goes for the absence of boredom. Don’t try to escape boredom every time you can. It’s not bad when it leads to positive things. And it can. 

Boredom may be punshing holes in time, but at the same moment the value of time becomes clear. And as long as you have weeks left to your disposal, boredom can make those future weeks valuable.

*It could be that this article is updated from time to time.

Bored? (2007, december). Scientific American.

Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell. (2017, 26 juli). Optimistic Nihilism. YouTube.

Marczewski, A. (2012). Mihaly Csikszentmihályi’s flow chart [Illustration]. Gamified UK.

Schuessler, J. (2010, 22 januari). Our Boredom, Ourselves. The New York Times.

Veritasium. (2018, 29 september). Why Boredom is Good For You. YouTube.

Vsauce. (2013, 19 augustus). Why Do We Get Bored? YouTube.

Published by Vincent Donders

Groot muziekliefhebber en erg geïnteresseerd in wetenschap en educatie.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: