“Boredom flourishes too, when you feel safe. It’s a symptom of security.”
Boredom is a sense of suspension in moments that lack purpose, intensity, and activity. Boredom can arise when life is safe and easy and a person lacks challenge and curiosity. People who are driven to experience lively engagement of their minds and bodies may feel uncomfortable when they temporarily lack direction and stimulation.
Someone who’s bored might seek entertainment to avoid self-reflection or to feed self-centeredness, which are two sides of the same coin. Boredom is often caused by an anxiety of having to face quiet and perhaps emptiness—a fear that there will be nothing to feel if one is not active, excited, or busy.
To avoid falling into disconnected limbo, there are many quick fixes. Technological games and connectivity are easy distractions but don’t amount to a deep engagement of the mind and body.
On the other hand, persevering through boredom without seeking distraction can lead to self-awareness and groundedness that can arise out of self-reflection. Creativity can also ensue.
People sometimes say, “If you’re bored, you lack imagination.” Let’s go a step further and say that creative imagination requires the ability to withstand boredom. Creativity—where two unconnected ideas collide creating a new idea—occurs when the brain is relaxed and aware, but not distracted. Texting, computer games, web surfing, and looking in the refrigerator distract, but they don’t allow for free flow movement and the deepening of ideas.
How can we respond to boredom without jumping to a distraction?
1. Sit with the boredom. Mathematician and inventor Pascal wrote, “All man’s troubles come from not knowing how to sit still in one room.”
By avoiding distractions one is able to observe what lies underneath the unease of boredom. Rather than reaching for the phone, the TV remote, or a drink to kill boredom, use the time to sit or take a walk and “be with” yourself.
2. Focus on other people. Helping someone else instantly frees a person from the weariness of boredom. Rather than thinking about how to entertain yourself, think about how you could brighten someone else’s day. Volunteer work, for example, with the intent to help others is gratifying and absorbing. Even just noticing and perhaps smiling at someone while standing in line somewhere can deepen you awareness and make a difference to you and the other person.
3. Work or school. Dale Carnegie once recommended, “Are you bored with life? Then throw yourself into some work you believe in with all your heart, live for it, die for it, and you will find happiness that you had thought could never be yours.”
If boredom is an ongoing theme in your life, it may be helpful to find work or enroll in classes to help you participate in the world in a meaningful way. Many people need external motivation, which school and work provide, to be focused on something other than their own vague yearnings.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD