Boredom is similar to mental fatigue and is caused by repetition and lack of interest in the details of our tasks (such as tasks that require continuous attention, waiting at the airport, prisoners locked in cells). Any experience that is predictable and repetitive becomes boring. In general, too much of the same thing and too little stimulation can cause in its victim an absence of desire and a feeling of entrapment (Toohey, 2012).
“To me, at least in retrospect, the really interesting question is why dullness proves to be such a powerful impediment to attention. Why we recoil from the dull. Maybe it’s because dullness is intrinsically painful; maybe that’s where phrases like ‘deadly dull’ or ‘excruciatingly dull’ come from. But there might be more to it. Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that’s dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient, low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from feeling, or at least from feeling directly or with our full attention. Admittedly, the whole thing’s pretty confusing, and hard to talk about abstractly…but surely something must lie behind not just Muzak in dull or tedious places any more but now also actual TV in waiting rooms, supermarkets’ checkouts, airport gates, SUVs’ backseats. Walkman, iPods, BlackBerries, cell phones that attach to your head. This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can’t think anyone really believes that today’s so-called ‘information society’ is just about information. Everyone knows it’s about something else, way down.”
Boredom also has its benefits. It is important to see boredom as a “call to action” (Svendsen, 1999). Nietzsche suggested that men of rare sensibility value boredom as an impetus to achievement. Boredom can be a catalyst for action. It can provide an opportunity for thought and reflection. It can also be a sign that a task is a waste of time—and thus not worth continuing.
Only in the last decade has there been much scientific research looking into the nature of boredom. In 2006, a study classified boredom into four different types, with a follow-up study published this month in the journal Motivation and Emotion adding a fifth kind of boredom, called apathetic boredom, to the list. The researchers involved in the study had 63 university students and 80 high school students answer smartphone-based surveys about their activities and experiences over the course of two weeks.
“Boredom is a flight from what is important. Like workaholism and perfectionism, it is a way of distracting yourself from inner experiences. It occurs when you look outward and do not find anything to engage your attention. Instead of feeling your emotions - becoming aware of the functioning of your energy system - you become bored. Boredom ... is a flight from your higher potential. It is fear of the transformation that wants to occur, and will occur in you, when you explore your emotions. It is your resistance to spiritual growth.”
One more key element of boredom is control. Boredom often occurs when you have little control over your situation. Waiting rooms, lectures, and airline gates are all places where you have little control over your situation. Normally, we react to unpleasant situations by changing the situation. If you don’t like a book you are reading, for example, you close it and do something else. Boredom happens when you are unable to change the situation.
What can you do about boredom? Obviously, there are times when you are stuck. If you are listening to a lecture that you cannot leave, then you just need to find a way to get through it. When you have some control, though, use your understanding of boredom to help you out. If you can, try to do a meditation exercise to lower your arousal level. Also, keep some music handy. Music you enjoy can crowd out distractions in the environment. It can also influence your mood in positive ways to counteract the pain of being bored.
“When I have neither pleasure nor pain and have been breathing for a while the lukewarm insipid air of these so called good and tolerable days, I feel so bad in my childish soul that I smash my moldering lyre of thanksgiving in the face of the slumbering god of contentment and would rather feel the very devil burn in me than this warmth of a well-heated room. A wild longing for strong emotions and sensations seethes in me, a rage against this toneless, flat, normal and sterile life. I have a mad impulse to smash something, a warehouse, perhaps, or a cathedral, or myself, to commit outrages, to pull off the wigs of a few revered idols...”
In Experience Without Qualities: Boredom and Modernity, Elizabeth Goodstein traces the modern discourse on boredom through literary, philosophical, and sociological texts to find that as "a discursively articulated phenomenon...boredom is at once objective and subjective, emotion and intellectualization—not just a response to the modern world but also a historically constituted strategy for coping with its discontents." In both conceptions, boredom has to do fundamentally with an experience of time and problems of meaning.
Some theories emphasize the role of the situation, some emphasize the role of the person, and some emphasize the interaction between situation and person in causing boredom. The present study examines these models by determining whether boredom propensity (person) and/or experimental condition (situation) independently or in interaction affected state boredom. The study also examined the relative contribution of behavioural activation and inhibition to state boredom. Boredom propensity and condition significantly and independently predicted state boredom, as did the interaction between behavioural inhibition and condition. Implications are discussed, including the possibility of two distinct causes of boredom.
Different scholars use different definitions of boredom, which complicates research. Boredom has been defined by Cynthia D. Fisher in terms of its main central psychological processes: "an unpleasant, transient affective state in which the individual feels a pervasive lack of interest and difficulty concentrating on the current activity." Mark Leary et al. describe boredom as "an affective experience associated with cognitive attentional processes." In positive psychology, boredom is described as a response to a moderate challenge for which the subject has more than enough skill.[full citation needed]
There was also a piano, well littered with music, a sewing bag thrown down upon a cretonned window seat, and the generous fireplace was flanked by two huge baskets, one heaped with magazines, the other a perfectly round mound of yellow fur, which suddenly took form and life as a yellow tabby cat fastened hopeful topaz eyes upon them, blinked away a brief disappointment, and then yawned with ennui.