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.
The superfluous man (Russian: лишний человек, lishniy chelovek) is an 1840s and 1850s Russian literary concept derived from the Byronic hero. It refers to an individual, perhaps talented and capable, who does not fit into social norms. In most cases, this person is born into wealth and privilege. Typical characteristics are disregard for social values, cynicism, and existential boredom; typical behaviors are gambling, drinking, smoking, sexual intrigues, and duels. He is often unempathetic and carelessly distresses others with his actions.
Boredom is a universal experience. Almost everyone suffers from it in the course of their lives. Existing survey estimates show that between 30 percent and 90 percent of American adults experience boredom at some point in their daily lives, as do 91 percent to 98 percent of youth (Chin et al., 2017). Men are generally more bored than women. There is also a positive link between very low educational attainment and boredom.
“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.”
Grunge lit is an Australian literary genre of fictional or semi-autobiographical writing in the early 1990s about young adults living in an "inner cit[y]" "...world of disintegrating futures where the only relief from...boredom was through a nihilistic pursuit of sex, violence, drugs and alcohol". Often the central characters are disfranchised, lacking drive and determination beyond the desire to satisfy their basic needs. It was typically written by "new, young authors" who examined "gritty, dirty, real existences" of everyday characters. It has been described as both a sub-set of dirty realism and an offshoot of Generation X literature. Stuart Glover states that the term "grunge lit" takes the term "grunge" from the "late 80s and early 90s—...Seattle [grunge] bands". Glover states that the term "grunge lit" was mainly a marketing term used by publishing companies; he states that most of the authors who have been categorized as "grunge lit" writers reject the label.
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.
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 is a condition characterized by perception of one's environment as dull, tedious, and lacking in stimulation. This can result from leisure and a lack of aesthetic interests. Labor and art may be alienated and passive, or immersed in tedium. There is an inherent anxiety in boredom; people will expend considerable effort to prevent or remedy it, yet in many circumstances, it is accepted as suffering to be endured. Common passive ways to escape boredom are to sleep or to think creative thoughts (daydream). Typical active solutions consist in an intentional activity of some sort, often something new, as familiarity and repetition lead to the tedious.
“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.”
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.
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."