“Human beings make life so interesting. Do you know, that in a universe full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom. “ ⁓ Death
― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather
As I wash the dishes, my fingers squeak with the satisfying friction of clean glass.
When I fold clean laundry, the brightness of the sun wafts from the sheets.
I cut fresh vegetables and feel the warm earth between my toes once again.
Waiting in line, I see how a lady’s eyes light up the moment her lover arrives.
How lovely the traffic lights look through the rain-drenched windshield.
Aren't you bored, you may ask.
I look up, little stories swimming within my gaze, and my spirit replies, “No.”
When Nothing Means Something Else
Leo Tolstoy poetically defined boredom as “desire seeking desire”. It is that feeling or cognitive state of limbo, where things have begun and yet remain static. It is akin to restlessness, when you want something but you don’t know what. It seems both ludicrous and incongruous, this wish for a want.
Boredom is far from being a boring subject. It has captured the minds of philosophers, literary writers, and scientists alike. Historically, several concepts have been related to boredom as we understand it now. Seneca, a Roman philosopher and statesman during the 1st century CE, brought forth taedium vitae — a mood reminiscent of nausea and caused by contemplating the endlessly repetitive rhythm of life. The 5th century ascetic John Cassian wrote about acedia as it applied to medieval monks at that time. This tiresome disorientation of the mind was judged as immoral then, since it was considered a hindrance to spiritual work. However, the Greeks didn’t think to label this state as they believed it was a natural part of life. Various writers in the 19th century have illustrated tedium as boredom’s predecessor — one example is Charles Dickens’ character Lady Dedlock in Bleak House.
Over the past decades, studies conducted by psychologists and neuroscientists have revealed certain insights. It is essentially a state of mind characterized by a lack of interest, engagement, or stimulation. It happens when a person feels unoccupied, dissatisfied, or unfulfilled by current activities or surroundings. It can manifest as restlessness, lethargy, or a general sense of ennui (weariness, dissatisfaction). It often arises when there is a discrepancy between one's desired level of mental or physical stimulation and the actual level of stimulation present in the environment.
Boredom can be brought on by monotonous or repetitive tasks, a lack of novelty or challenge, or a perceived absence of purpose or meaning. It is a subjective experience and can vary greatly from person to person. Some individuals may find certain activities boring while others find them engaging or enjoyable.
Filling Nothing With Anything
The National Anti-Boredom Month was initiated in the 1980s by Alan Caruba. He motivated people to break free from monotony, embrace new experiences, and find joy in everyday life. The goal behind this month is to combat the pervasive feeling of boredom that can often creep into our routines and negatively impact our well-being.
Every July, we are encouraged to seek out activities that stimulate our minds, ignite our passions, and bring a sense of excitement to our daily lives. This may involve trying new hobbies, exploring different cultural activities, engaging in outdoor adventures, or simply finding ways to infuse creativity and spontaneity into everyday tasks.
This lighthearted observance serves as a reminder that life is full of opportunities for growth, exploration, and enjoyment. It encourages people to step out of their comfort zones, break free from the mundane, and embrace a mindset of curiosity and adventure. By actively combating boredom, we can enhance our overall happiness, mental well-being, and personal development.
And Find Meaning In Nothing
Social critics have pointed out that modern society has further enabled the development of boredom. We are exposed to so many things that capture our attention that even our leisure time is dictated by the need to do something. Although there are benefits to alleviating this in-between state with interesting activities — consider how seemingly outward inaction allows us the freedom to follow more inwardly directed pursuits.
Boredom, often seen as an unpleasant state, can actually have several advantages for us. Here are some of its potential benefits —
Fosters Creativity – It can act as a catalyst for creativity. When our minds are unoccupied, they have the opportunity to wander and make new connections. It can inspire innovative thinking, problem-solving, and the generation of fresh ideas.
Encourages Self-Reflection – It can prompt introspection and self-reflection. When we are not constantly immersed, we have the opportunity to evaluate our lives, goals, and values. This can lead to personal growth, self-discovery, and a deeper understanding of oneself.
Promotes Mindfulness – It can encourage us to be more present and mindful. When there are no external distractions, we become more attuned to our thoughts, emotions, and the world around us. This can cultivate a sense of mindfulness and appreciation for the present moment.
Restores Mental Energy – It provides an opportunity for mental rest and rejuvenation. It allows our minds to unwind from the constant stimulation of daily life and recharge — leading to increased focus, attention, and overall cognitive well-being.
While excessive or prolonged boredom can be detrimental, embracing occasional states of “doing nothing” and using them constructively can yield these benefits. It's important to strike a balance and proactively engage in activities that stimulate and fulfill us, while also appreciating the value of moments of quiet contemplation and unstructured time.
Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. A rustling in the leaves drives him away.
— Walter Benjamin
Have a meaningful National Anti-Boredom Month!
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Written by @lekzumali
Check out her musings on Instagram!