This example leads to another key aspect of boredom. As Eastwood, Frischen, Fenske, and Smilek point out, bored people become aware of their difficulty concentrating. As a result, bored people often try to amuse themselves by daydreaming and letting their mind wander. Interestingly, while mind wandering helps people to keep their minds occupied, studies suggest that the more your mind wanders, the more bored you feel. The idea is that you recognize that this daydreaming is meant to occupy your mind, and so you realize that the situation is boring.
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.
“Time is quixotic because it can torment us. When we have insufficient stimulus to fill our lives, we resent the relentless quality of time, and we engage in activities designed to “kill time.” Time that passes slowly creates insufferable boredom; time that passes to quickly makes us aware of our accelerated death march. A person’s perspective on time depends mostly on what they are most afraid of, boredom or death.”
The most common way to define boredom in Western culture is having nothing to do. Boredom is generally viewed as an unpleasant emotional state in which the individual feels a pervasive lack of interest in and difficulty concentrating on the current activity. The condition corresponds more precisely to the French ennui, an existential perception of life’s futility. Ennui is a consequence of unfulfilled aspirations (Goodstein, 2005).
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The people who heard the barely noticeable TV rated themselves as more bored than either the ones who heard the loud TV or heard no soundtrack. The idea is that both the loud TV and the soft TV were distracting, but for those who heard the loud TV it was clear why they were distracted from the article. Thus, they may have been frustrated with the noise, but they were not bored. Those who heard the soft soundtrack had difficulty concentrating, but they were not sure why, and so they attributed the difficulty concentrating to boredom.
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.