Boredom’s Gift

What characterises my experience of boredom is this mix: energy and lethargy, desiring something but not being sure what it is.

I’ve been getting interested in boredom. It isn’t something that I’ve seen talked about much — there’s lots about anger and lust, and a good deal about happiness and even sadness and a little on jealousy. But boredom doesn’t get much attention.

It sounds strange to talk about being interest in boredom doesn’t it? Let me explain.

Experiencing Boredom

When we’re bored, we feel tired and hardly energetic. But we aren’t only tired; we are usually agitated — tapping our foot or our fingers. Boredom is an interesting mix of lethargy and energy.

Boredom is mixed in another way — in terms of focus or motivation. We know we want to do something but don’t know what. I tend to get up and wander around. While I’m wandering around my mind is looking for something, too — whatever it is that I want exactly.

What characterises my experience of boredom is this mix: energy and lethargy, desiring something but not being sure what it is.

For me boredom is an unpleasant experience. It’s not intensely unpleasant: it doesn’t have anything like the intensity of rage or disgust, but it’s something I’d rather not be going through.

Possible Responses

There are at least three possible responses to being bored.

Doing something — anything

There are some things that I know, fairly reliably, I will enjoy: favourite novelists, warm baths, or going for a walk. If I’m a little bored I can do one of the things that I find enjoyable and this can deal with it. Having done what I enjoy for a while I find that my boredom has passed.

Sometimes I find that I don’t want to do these reliably pleasurable things, which is really strange: why would I want to persist with something mildly unpleasant when I know there is something that I’m likely to enjoy? Why is mildly unpleasant boredom preferable to likely pleasure? What’s so attractive about boredom?

Finding something absorbing

When we are absorbed in something then we aren’t bored. But the advice to ‘get interested in something’ doesn’t always work. We can’t force ourselves to be interested in something (or at least I can’t). If it was all up to us then we could be interested in absolutely anything — from a beautiful landscape to a pile of dust.

It seems to me that my being interested in something has something to do with the thing. I find some things more interesting than others. For me the core of my interest is usually an idea and how it can be used to improve our lives. (I may start out being captured by the idea and just want to understand it; but at some stage I move on to how I or others can use it).

When we are bored we aren’t absorbed. So, one strategy for dealing with boredom is to go wandering — either in the outside world or in our mind — to find something absorbing.

Staying with the boredom

The last two responses are about getting rid of the boredom. Another possibility is to stay with it. This response is a way of seeking clarity about the boredom itself. When I do this I find that interesting things can happen.

When I examine my boredom I find that it is a mix of things: that there are two needs or desires. If I was clear about one particular need then I would be seeking its satisfaction, perhaps experiencing frustration if something was stopping my need being met.

However, frustration is different to boredom. Frustration has more focus. We are frustrated by something definite. Boredom is more diffuse, less clear.

It seems to me that boredom is also different to the early stage of being interested in something. When we first get interested in something then we aren’t clear what it is — or we don’t know what is going on — but we are interested in finding out. At this stage we have a sense of our interest building. With boredom we don’t feel that we are going anywhere. Boredom has much more stasis and stagnation about it in my experience.

When we become clear what the boredom mix is made up of, we are well on the way to finishing with boredom. We may become frustrated (if one or more of our needs can’t be met) but we won’t be bored. Or we may get interested in a need or desire and so move into action.

Boredom’s Gift

If we can stay with and listen to our boredom, we can gain insight into our needs or desires. We can find what needs and desires are in conflict or competing for our attention. These may be big issues or trivial ones; they may be easily met or quite demanding. However, by gaining clarity on our boredom we can always gain insight into our needs and desires. This is boredom’s gift.

I would like to know your experience of boredom. Is it a big part of your life or something you rarely experience? Is it intense for you or quite mild? How do you respond to being bored? How do you deal with it when you are bored? I would love to hear your experience in the comments to this post.

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