“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.”
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.
Martin Heidegger wrote about boredom in two texts available in English, in the 1929/30 semester lecture course The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, and again in the essay What is Metaphysics? published in the same year. In the lecture, Heidegger included about 100 pages on boredom, probably the most extensive philosophical treatment ever of the subject. He focused on waiting at railway stations in particular as a major context of boredom. Søren Kierkegaard remarks in Either/Or that "patience cannot be depicted" visually, since there is a sense that any immediate moment of life may be fundamentally tedious.
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These authors suggest that attention plays an important role in creating boredom. In particular, there are a few conditions that need to be met for people to feel bored. First, people need to have a reasonable level of psychological energy or arousal to feel bored. When people have low arousal and there is not much happening in the world, then they often feel relaxed. When they have high arousal, though, they have energy they would like to devote to something, but they cannot find anything engaging.
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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.
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."
This kind of boredom is different from the others. Like reactant boredom, it’s also unpleasant, but a person experiencing it has low arousal and a lack of positive or negative feelings–in other words, a feeling of helplessness or depression. Of the high school students sampled in the study, 36% of boredom experiences were of the apathetic kind, which is worrisome given that other studies have shown that boredom, depression, and destructive behaviors are often linked.
“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...”