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I’m Bo-o-red!

Esther Rabi

“There’s nothing to do!” your child whines, his frustration at being bored mounting. You have far too much to do, but you’re also feeling bored. Our usual response to boredom is to try to banish it. But boredom has some surprising benefits.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

None of us are strangers to boredom. Be it of desperation or satiation, tedium, ennui, apathy, monotony, lassitude, restlessness, dreariness, or aching dissatisfaction — we’ve known them all. Sociology professorMartinDoehlemann suggests that there are three main categories of boredom, and each can be identified by the behavior of the sufferer. The most common type is “situational boredom,” when people are insufficiently stimulated. When a class or a meeting drags on, when you’re constantly checking your watch and wondering if it’s still working, you’re suffering from situational boredom. It’s been around for a long time; there’s graffiti in Pompeii from the first century that reads (in Latin), “Wall! I wonder that you haven’t fallen down in ruin, when you have to support all the boredom of your inscribers.” Situational boredom is easy to spot. People suffering from it will yawn, wriggle in their chairs, and stretch out their arms and legs, indicating — possibly subconsciously — they’re trying to squirm free and move on. Being overstimulated or having too much of a good thing causes “boredom of satiety.” Normally, time kills people, but people living lives of luxury kill time. Before the industrial revolution, the English language had no word for boredom; there was only idleness, and it was the prerogative of the upper class. Lower-class people had to work, but a superior person had so little to do that he could be idle. To emphasize their freedom from the need to work, aristocrats were rude to “the little people” who served them. Rude, contemptuous behavior is typical when people are spoiled by excess. A person suffering from “existential boredom” finds no meaning in life and may be depressed. The person who is bored by his existence may be expressionless and motionless, as if he knows by instinct that his boredom can’t be overcome by any action. Or he may try to beat the boredom by seeking new, exciting distractions. Diversions seem better than the misery of facing life, because they create an illusion of happiness — for a while. But everything new soon becomes old, and there’s no distraction that gives meaning to life. A more fundamental switch is needed.

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