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.
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 – the psychological state that we experience whenever we are uninterested in what we are currently doing – is one of the defining traits of humanity. Time is the psychological nemesis of humankind. Tedium, a fundamental angst of humankind, arises from human beings’ ability to perceive time and our attempts to derive meaning from our personal existence.”
“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 French loanword ennui comes from the very same Late Latin word that gave us annoy — inodiare ("to make loathsome"). We borrowed ennui several centuries after absorbing annoy into the language. Ennui deals more with boredom than irritation - and a somewhat specific sort of boredom at that. It generally refers to the feeling of jadedness that can result from living a life of too much ease. The poet Charles Lloyd described it well in his 1823 Stanzas to Ennui when he referred to that world-weary sensation as a "soul-destroying fiend" which visits with its "pale unrest / The chambers of the human breast / Where too much happiness hath fixed its home."