Boredom

By Cathy Ferguson

I was once told that only the boring became bored.

I vehemently disagree.

On reflection, based on no scientific evidence whatsoever, I think boredom comes from two sources. The first, under-stimulation, after over-stimulation. Like watching a slow-paced arty film after watching an action series. Or like those kids who say they are bored after playing on their iPad all day. They aren’t sure of what to do now, because everything that doesn’t have bells and whistles and the internet seems underwhelming. I get it.

The other kind of boredom I’ve pondered over is when you are internally bored. By this I mean that you have things you could do, but they are dull tasks, and those are your only options. An example of this is when you don’t have enough to do at work. You could do some filing, but you’ve become so worn down by boredom, so fatigued by it, that you just can’t care about filing right now. Or ever. I think the French call this ennui.

Boredom has little to do with being too stupid to think of something to do. I say this because often the simple repetitive tasks are boring to lots of people, whereas some people find this calming or soothing. Please don’t misunderstand, I am not talking about ritual. Ritual and rhythm are often pretty critical to holding us together. But repetition of banality is something else. A lack of activity or a repetitive activity is soul destroying.

Boredom is also dangerous. This is because it leads to various kinds of numbness and sensory dulling. You forget how to be present. It means that you struggle to read a novel now because you’re used to watching TV shows all the time. It means you start shopping online even though you don’t need anything. After a while, this leads to a sort of depressed state. An emotional low.

Boredom has nothing to do with busy-ness or spare time. I think often we are busy and bored. Sometimes the busy-ness is self-created to distract from the boredom which would otherwise seep in. Think of the repetition of housework. It is necessary, but so boring! We spend so much time doing it, yet it is not stimulating to most people. I think child-rearing is often the same. Lots of repetition but no space. The same activities day in and day out.

So then, how do we cope with this? How do we shift from dissatisfied ennui and into something more engaged?

I think the answer is not as simple as creating change. If you have a kid and looking after them is sometimes boring, then getting rid of them for a while really isn’t an option. I think gratitude can be helpful, but Pollyanna was annoying and we don’t want to be grateful for everything, some things are lame and we need to just say that they are.

I think part of the solution is creativity. I think creativity might be the antithesis of boredom. If I am making something, then I am not bored. If I am passively accepting boredom, then I am destined for stupor. For me, this looks like hobbies. I (she admits nervously) am a crafter. I make greeting cards which I give as gifts and sell to boutique florists and galleries. I find that for me this is life giving. If I don’t do something along these lines on a weekly basis then I find myself feeling tetchy and weird. It’s like my version of playing. I think everyone needs to play sometimes, not just kids.

However, deep-seated boredom is a different beast. This is the day-in-day-out kind. Which some people live their whole lives just enduring each day. I can do this for a little while. I’ve done it for years in my career where I just needed the money and had to keep going. Or when my studies were pretty rough but I had to keep chipping away. I think to some degree pushing through these phases to finish things is important. It develops resilience and a sense of accomplishment when we do finally get to the finish line. But the point is, there has to be a finish line. Life shouldn’t be a trudge indefinitely. That’s where I have a problem. I cannot just live my life slogging through. I’ve decided that I can deal with one area of my life being a bit boring, but really most of it needs to feel fulfilling and stimulating. Otherwise my mental health starts to suffer.

So, what does one do when the day-to-day is dreary and old? Maybe it’s comfortable, but it’s also stifling…

My first idea is to scare yourself. Shake yourself up. I don’t mean do something dangerous. I mean do something that challenges you HARD. For me, while I’m a really independent person in some ways, there are many things I find daunting on my own. So, I did some of those things. I got a role where I worked much more with staff instead of students. I travelled. I also stopped avoiding the smaller things that freaked me out like navigating myself places. Turns out I’m actually not so bad at it. Then I moved overseas. And, I should have been constantly hyperventilating, but actually I was fine. I haven’t had even a glimpse of panic or anxiety. It turns out scaring myself has been good for me and has dissipated the boredom that was creeping in.

Maybe you can’t move overseas. I’m fortunate that I am single and can make that kind of large scale decision without worrying about a spouse or kids. But I encourage you to realise that giving yourself a jolt is probably possible in almost any circumstances. Maybe it’s attending a class to learn a new skill. Maybe it’s dating. Maybe it’s in the way you approach new situations. Maybe you just need to say yes. For me, coming to Myanmar became the year of yes. I have said yes to some crazy opportunities that I would never have agreed to in my old life. It turns out it’s super liberating.

So break out of the bored, play a little, scare yourself and say YES!