“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.”
The authors of this paper point to an interesting study by Robin Damrad-Frye and James Laird in the August 1989 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In this study, participants had to listen to a tape of a person reading a Psychology Today article. In the next room, there was a television soundtrack from a soap opera playing. For some groups listening to the article, the TV was very loud and distracting, for others it was barely noticeable, and for some it was not playing at all. After listening to the article, people rated their boredom during the study.
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.
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.
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.
There was also a piano, well littered with music, a sewing bag thrown down upon a cretonned window seat, and the generous fireplace was flanked by two huge baskets, one heaped with magazines, the other a perfectly round mound of yellow fur, which suddenly took form and life as a yellow tabby cat fastened hopeful topaz eyes upon them, blinked away a brief disappointment, and then yawned with ennui.