Boredom also plays a role in existentialist thought. Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche were two of the first philosophers considered fundamental to the existentialist movement. Like Pascal, they were interested in people's quiet struggle with the apparent meaninglessness of life and the use of diversion to escape from boredom. Kierkegaard's Either/Or describes the rotation method, a method used by higher level aesthetes in order to avoid boredom. The method is an essential hedonistic aspect of the aesthetic way of life. For the aesthete, one constantly changes what one is doing in order to maximize the enjoyment and pleasure derived from each activity.
Erich Fromm and other thinkers of critical theory speak of boredom as a common psychological response to industrial society, where people are required to engage in alienated labor. According to Fromm, boredom is "perhaps the most important source of aggression and destructiveness today." For Fromm, the search for thrills and novelty that characterizes consumer culture are not solutions to boredom, but mere distractions from boredom which, he argues, continues unconsciously. Above and beyond taste and character, the universal case of boredom consists in any instance of waiting, as Heidegger noted, such as in line, for someone else to arrive or finish a task, or while one is travelling somewhere. The automobile requires fast reflexes, making its operator busy and hence, perhaps for other reasons as well, making the ride more tedious despite being over sooner.
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.
Finally, a real problem caused by boredom is that it leads you to dislike the things that are the object of boredom. In my senior year of high school, for example, I was forced to read Moby Dick. I struggled to get interested in it and spent long hours staring at the pages trying to lose myself in it. To this day, I really do not like Moby Dick. The negative feelings that came with the boredom have stuck to the book.
The bored antihero became prominent in early 20th century existentialist works such as Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis (1915), Jean-Paul Sartre's La Nausée (1938) (French for 'Nausea'), and Albert Camus' L'Étranger (1942) (French for 'The Stranger'). The protagonist in these works is an indecisive central character who drifts through his life and is marked by ennui, angst, and alienation.
The French term for boredom, ennui, is sometimes used in English as well, at least since 1778. The term ennui was first used "as a French word in English;" in the 1660s and it was "nativized by 1758". The term ennui comes "from French ennui, from Old French enui "annoyance" (13c.), [a] back-formation from enoiier, anuier. "The German word for "boredom" expresses this: Langeweile, a compound made of lange "long" and Weile "while", which is in line with the common perception that when one is bored, time passes "tortuously" slowly.
Without stimulus or focus, the individual is confronted with nothingness, the meaninglessness of existence, and experiences existential anxiety. Heidegger states this idea as follows: "Profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference. This boredom reveals being as a whole." Schopenhauer used the existence of boredom in an attempt to prove the vanity of human existence, stating, "...for if life, in the desire for which our essence and existence consists, possessed in itself a positive value and real content, there would be no such thing as boredom: mere existence would fulfil and satisfy us."
Boreout is a management theory that posits that lack of work, boredom, and consequent lack of satisfaction are a common malaise affecting individuals working in modern organizations, especially in office-based white collar jobs. This theory was first expounded in 2007 in Diagnose Boreout, a book by Peter Werder and Philippe Rothlin, two Swiss business consultants. They claim the absence of meaningful tasks, rather than the presence of stress, is many workers' chief problem.
In a learning environment, a common cause of boredom is lack of understanding; for instance, if one is not following or connecting to the material in a class or lecture, it will usually seem boring. However, the opposite can also be true; something that is too easily understood, simple or transparent, can also be boring. Boredom is often inversely related to learning, and in school it may be a sign that a student is not challenged enough, or too challenged. An activity that is predictable to the students is likely to bore them.
Flow is a state of total immersion in a task that is challenging yet closely matched to one’s abilities, akin to “being in the zone.” Flow occurs when a person’s skills match the level of challenge presented by the environment and when a task includes clear goals and immediate feedback. Tasks that are too easy are boring. In contrast, tasks that people perceive to be too difficult lead to anxiety.