Endlessly Bored

You’re bored and the work day has barely started. Each minute crawls by. You wonder if enough time has passed to grab another cup of coffee, maybe a snack. You set through another stack of tasks. Look at the clock and can’t quite conceive how it’s not even lunchtime. Another stack of tasks. Another. Another. You wonder if this repetition is infinite; if this is all your working life will ever be? Or as Roger Hodgson from Supertramp sings in the first few notes of The Logical Song: “When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful. A miracle, oh, it was beautiful, magical, and all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily, joyfully, oh, playfully watching me.” The drums fall in, and we continue with the “logical” part of the song: “But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible. Logical, oh, responsible, practical and they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, oh, clinical, oh, intellectual, cynical.”*

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“When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful. A miracle, oh, it was beautiful, magical, and all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily, joyfully, oh, playfully watching me.”

The Logical Song - Supertramp (lyrics by Roger Hodson-

So what has you bored?

Do you think there might be a job out there that will make more efficient use of the skills you’ve honed? Is it fear of missing out, feeling that another job will bring fulfilment or better money? Or, do you like your job, you just feel that you’re plateauing because your learning curve has evened out.

So, what do you do?

Changing jobs might initially sound rather tempting, and for some, it is most definitely the right decision, but for others, it’s one bunnyhop to another and what you’re feeding is a need for novelty. If it’s that, you might be better off learning to appreciate boredom. But, what do you do when you’re bored, but you want to stick around?

  • Ask for more responsibility. You’d like your daily tasks to be more interesting, then ask for things that actually challenge you. You already have a ’no’, but ask, and you might get a ‘yes’.
  • Show initiative and take on tasks outside of your regular workload. Collaborate with someone in your department you might not usually work with or go outside of your department altogether.
  • Learn new skills. Take a course. Just do something that gets you out of the rut you’re in.
  • Look more closely at the set up of the company you work for. Is there something missing, something you can suggest that might fill a gap that could benefit your coworkers, your office, your clients, etc. We live in a society were people create dream jobs out of their interests and skills, combining things we didn’t see ten years ago. It makes for a fascinating working landscape and who knows, you might be able to turn your regular, dull job into your dream job or just something that’s mostly not boring.

Now, boredom in and of itself isn’t a bad thing; I would even argue that boredom is morally neutral. The frightening thing lies in what boredom stirs within us. In his, 1930, essay titled “Boredom and Excitement,” the English philosopher and writer Bertrand Russell stated A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men… of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase.” So, if boredom isn’t a bad thing, why combat it at all. Well, being bored, for most of us, gives rise to unhealthy, and in some cases destructive, behaviour. We’re bored, so we snack. We’re bored, so we check social media, again, and again, and again. We’re bored, so we stay up too late to compensate for how unfulfilling our day has been. We’re bored, so we tap and click ourselves into distraction. Russell continues: 

Boredom is therefore a vital problem for the moralist, since at least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it. (…)Boredom, however, is not to be regarded as wholly evil. There are two sorts, of which one is fructifying, while the other is stultifying. The fructifying kind arises from the absence of drugs and the stultifying kind from the absence of vital activities.

So, I ask you what is truly so terrifying about boredom? I would say, fear lies at the very root of our avoidance of boredom. It might not register as fear, but just think of what boredom stirs within you. It feels empty and leaves room for questions that might frighten us: Who am I? What am I doing with my life? Is life going passed me? Have I experienced enough? Am I meant to be with this person? In boredom, those questions flourish and many of us, truly dislike those questions. Boredom also means an absence of stimulation and that absence is rather close to not feeling alive at all, and the reminder that our lives are finite is something most of us find terrifying in its own right. But, those questions do have a purpose and running away from them, constantly looking for the next exciting thing won’t serve you.

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“A life too full of excitement is an exhausting life, in which continually stronger stimuli are needed to give the thrill that has come to be thought an essential part of pleasure. A person accustomed to too much excitement is like a person with a morbid craving for pepper, who comes last to be unable even to taste a quantity of pepper which would cause anyone else to choke. There is an element of boredom which is inseparable from the avoidance of too much excitement, and too much excitement not only undermines the health, but dulls the palate for every kind of pleasure, substituting titillations for profound organic satisfactions, cleverness for wisdom, and jagged surprises for beauty… A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is one of the things that ought to be taught to the young.”

—From the essay “Boredom and Excitement” from “The Conquest of Happiness” by Bertrand Russell

To not fear boredom leaves us the space to avoid growing cynical. It is an embrace of the present and being present; it also an embrace of moderation and an embrace of the appreciation of the smaller things in life. Life isn’t about big gestures and bigger happenings. Learn to love a bit of boredom, but don’t let it be the main theme of your life. 

—written by Julie Smits


Notes

*Granted, Roger Hodgson wrote this song in his late teens about being sent off to boarding school, but I still think it applies.