Another in the series of explorations of emotions – this one’s a bit shorter, so hopefully it can sustain your interest!

Feeling Bored

There are two different modes of boredom: the first is an active form, a kind of agitated dissatisfaction with our experience or the task we are undertaking; the second is a passive form that is more like a resigned dissatisfaction with life itself, which I will call ennui in this analysis. One way that you can distinguish these two forms from each other is in the way in which you describe them to yourself. The active form is usually accompanied or signalled by the declaration “I’m so bored!” often spoken aloud even when no one else is present. If you can even be bothered to offer any description of your experience in a state of ennui, then it will be far from a declaration, and the word ‘bored’ may sound tired and drawn out.

Boredom can arise when we lose touch with the reason that we are doing whatever it is that we are doing. If this is because the task we are undertaking has little or no inherent interest and is largely a means to a greater end, then it means that we have lost touch with the connection between the current action and the end towards which we are striving. In these cases you need to find a way to remake the connections, so that you can have not only an intellectual connection with your task, but also an emotional one.

The correlation between the loss of a sense of meaning and the state of boredom is reminiscent of the development of depression, and the more passive form of boredom has been described as a melancholic languor, making this connection explicit. Ennui is an aspect of depression, showing the same characteristics of disengagement and disinterest, and a resigned acceptance of a meaningless and pleasureless existence.

We can also become bored because we are so used to experiencing high levels of activity and entertainment that we cannot stand a reduction in our level of stimulus. It may be that we have developed an ill-founded expectation that the world should consistently engage and entertain us, and if this is the case then it is important to undermine this expectation and take responsibility for your own experience. This is one of the issues addressed in Chapter @ where we look at intrinsic and extrinsic motivations.

Boredom is another warning feeling, signalling dissatisfaction with your experience and through its very discomfort providing a stimulus to action. However, a note of caution should be sounded here. Boredom of the more agitated sort can be a mask for painful, difficult or inconvenient feelings, seeking some sort of distraction from the underlying emotion. Here the desire to distract yourself from the emerging painful experience may well manifest in similar behaviours to those that we use to distract ourselves from anxiety. While the experience of boredom is a call to action, it is important to remember that the required action may be simply to pay more attention to yourself.