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Celebrating Boredom

We’ll look at the history and value of boredom, and why we may need it now.

We’ll look at the history and value of boredom, and why we may need it now.

We’ll look at the history and value of boredom, and why we may need it now.

Life can be very exciting. It can also be boring.

Ancient Greeks knew it. Romans knew it. Monks in the desert knew it.

And on long summer days or Sunday afternoons, in lines waiting, or lecture halls wilting, anyone can know boredom.

We avoid it. But sometimes we may just need it. To escape the clamor and rush of modern life.

We’ll talk with classicist Peter Toohey today about the history and value of boredom. With movie critic A.O. Scott about long boring movies. And with Jonah Leher about boredom as the door to dreams.

This hour On Point: what’s interesting about boredom.

- Tom Ashbrook

Guests:

Peter Toohey, professor of classics in the Department of Greek and Roman Studies at the University of Calgary. His new book is “Boredom: A Lively History.”

A. O. Scott, chief film critic of the New York Times. His article, with Manohla Dargis, is “In Defense of the Slow and Boring.”

Jonah Lehrer, contributing Editor at Wired, Radio Lab, and Scientific American Mind.  He’s author of “How We Decide” and “Proust Was a Neuroscientist.”


More

Excerpt: Putting boredom in its place

WHAT MAKES SOMETHING boring?

Predictability, monotony and confinement are all key. Any situation that stays the same for too long can be boring. Road trips, gardening and – my own special bête noire – Easter religious services are all fertile sources of boredom. The three of them bedevilled my youth: I had to sit, trapped and wriggling, through the first and third and water the second again and again. A boring person will usually be predictable and repetitive as well, particularly in their speech. Like long-winded lecturers or relatives, the bore’s droning, rheumy intonations don’t seem to go anywhere, or at least not quickly enough. Their repetitive disquisitions confine you in a world of boring words. And time drags to a halt.

William Orpen’s A Bloomsbury Family (1907) captures the excruciating sense of boredom caused by confinement. The family that is pictured is a well-known one: there is the father, the artist William Nicholson, with his wife, the painter Mabel Pryde, and (from left to right) his children, Nancy, who became the wife of the poet Robert Graves, Tony, who was killed in 1918 in the Great War, Ben, the well-known English abstract artist, and Christopher, an architect. But for all those connections, you can almost smell the boredom. William Nicholson presides over the table with the languorous disinterest of a school headmaster. The family either stares off into the middle distance or, like little Christopher, peers wide eyed and pleading to the viewer for help. Tony supports his drooping head with both elbows on the table (a dead giveaway for boredom), framed on either side by those of Ben and his father. In fact there’s lots of framing in this picture – the over¬bearing pictures hanging on the walls, the rigid lines and corners used throughout the painting; and Orpen himself is even reflected in the convex mirror above the fireplace painting the family – this is the fourth wall, which only accentuates the sense of entrapment. Like Orpen, we get sucked into this boring, almost mesmerically dreary scene. You wouldn’t want to be at that table for all the tea in China, or Bloomsbury.

Boredom breeds in stifling homes. Anton Chekhov, the great nineteenth-century Russian playwright and short-story author, mentions boredom more frequently than any other writer I have encountered (perhaps, as a physician, he was more interested than others in what goes on inside the human body) and his plays are packed with confining country homes. Uncle Vanya (1900), published not long before William Orpen painted his picture, is, like so many of Chekhov’s plays and stories, constructed around the theme of boredom. The young, pretty and feckless Yeliena declares ‘I’m dying of boredom …I don’t know what to do’. She speaks for most of the characters in the play – evenings round the dinner table, with the same old faces, on country estates in the long Russian winters of the nineteenth century must have weighed very heavily on the privileged classes. Entrapment and sameness are the causes of this sort of boredom. Situations like these are trivial and are not normally long lasting, and escape eventually provides a remedy. Yeliena and her ageing husband, Professor Serebriakov, bolt from the country estate and head off to town.

Excerpted from Boredom, by Peter Toohey, published May 2011 by Yale University Press.  Copyright © 2011 Peter Toohey.  Reprinted by permission of Yale University Press.

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  • Cory

    I prefer some of the aliases of boredom…  Peace and quiet, calm, tranquil, private.  I’ll choose these over the over-stimulated rat race most of us exist in 7 days a week and twice on Sunday.

    Jon Mayer said it well.  “Nothin to do, nowhere to be, a perfect little kind of free.”

  • Contactdavidf

    I have a 4 yr-old son and 2 yr-old daughter, and I think boredom for kids (& maybe for all) is a great stimulus for creativity. My wife and I don’t have constant activities planned for them, and after they get over the initial whining phase of boredom, they come up with their own games and stories that they never would have had an opportunity to were they continuously busy with assigned stuff.

    • Tanya

      Absolutely! My husband and I don’t have a television, didn’t want to watch another movie on the internet, didn’t feel like reading, didn’t have dinner to cook, didn’t want to clean, didn’t want to go out side… we broke out the art supplies and drew eachother! As we’re both rather unskilled artists, the results were hilarious and memorable. It felt good to use that part of my brain. And it was more wonderful bonding time, which I can never get enough of!

      • Anonymous

        Tanya, you’re right.  I gave up TV* about ten years ago and haven’t had a moment of boredom since.  The problem is trying to explain the absence of boredom.  The knack, as you’ve discovered, is developing one’s natural ability to be an observer of what’s going on around you, what you cannot control.  That’s what troubles me about being plugged in to music or talking on a cellphone while walking down the street.  People who do this have dropped out of  the now, the immediate, the factual, and have opted for life in the little zone of Me-’n’-my-opinions and tastes.  I bet that could be shown to be both unhealthy and dangerous. 

        *except for the screen itself and a subscription to Netflix, a great service for those who live far from town and city!

  • Anonymous

    I work in order to have the time to be “bored.”

  • Terry Tree Tree

    Has anyone ever studied the good versus the bad results of boredom?  Much mischief, and crime has been created out of boredom.  Boredom has caused otherwise honorable people to create a diversion from the boredom, sometimes commiting crimes, and/or hurting others.

  • Janevinton

    My mother, Lucille Harris always replied to her children and grandchildren when they said they were bored, “Only boring people are bored.” Thanks, Jane Vinton from Vt.

  • Mike

    If you are bored, you are boring. There is too much much at our disposal in the
    21st century for us to ever to be bored.

    • Tanya

      But isn’t so much of that which is at our disposal in the 21st century essentially garbage? My husband and I are perplexed by what some of our friends find entertaining these days because we see it as terribly dumb! On the flip side, they react to what we find interesting with boredom or confusion. They don’t seem to understand it– it seems too slow for them or, dare I say, too complex. I feel that our slower pace and conscious move away from those 21st century options that is being lumped in with the umbrella term “boredom” instead forces deep, meaningful thought and creativity. What some of our friends might find boring is what we are feeling enlivened and enriched by. They are the ones who seem bored. They seem entertained but I wonder if their brains are working…  it sounds so elitist, but this is my current perspective…

  • Charlie mc

              What a great topic. In the latest writings of Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk who was a favorite across the wide world of divers religious belief, was a small book which aimed to be a translation of the writings of the 3rd Century BC chinese Philosopher Chuang Tzu. The essay “Perfect Joy” is the perfect analysis of our modern angst.                                       PERFECT JOY
              “Is there to be found on earth a fullness of joy, or is there no such thing? Is there some way to make life fully worth living, or is this impossible? If there is such a way, how do you go about finding it?
                What should you try to do? What should you seek to avoid? What should be the goal in which your activity comes to rest?  What should you accept?  What should you refuse to accept? What should you love? What should you hate?
                “What the world values is money, reputation, long life, achievement. What it counts as joy is health and comfort of body, good food, fine clothes, beautiful things to look at, pleasant music to listen to.   
                “What it condemns is lack of money, a low social rank, a reputation for being no good, and an early death.
                “What it considers misfortune is bodily discomfort and labor, no chance to get your fill of good food, not having good clothes to wear, having no way to amuse or delight the eye, no pleasant music to listen to. If people find that they are deprived of these things, they go into a panic or fall into despair. They are so concerned for their life that their anxiety makes life unbearable, even when they have the things they think they want. Their very concern for enjoyment makes them unhappy.
                “ The rich make life intolerable, driving themselves in order to get more and more money which they cannot really use. In so doing they are alienated from themselves, and exhaust themselves in their own service as though they were slaves of others.
                “The ambitious run day and night in pursuit of honors, constantly in anguish about the success of their plans, dreading the miscalculation that may wreck everything. Thus they are alienated from themselves, exhausting their real life in service of the shadow created by their insatiable hope.
                “The birth of a man is the birth of his sorrow.
                “The longer he lives, the more stupid he becomes, because his anxiety to avoid unavoidable death becomes more and more acute. What bitterness! He lives for what is always out of reach!  His thirst for survival in the future makes him incapable of living in the present…
                “ I cannot tell if what the world considers “happiness” is happiness or not. All I know is that when I consider the way they go about attaining it, I see them carried away headlong, grim and obsessed, in the general onrush of the human herd, unable to stop themselves or to change their direction. All the while claiming to be just on the point of attaining happiness.
                “For my part, I cannot accept their standards, whether of happiness or unhappiness. I ask myself if after all their concept of happiness has any meaning whatever.
                “My opinion is that you never find happiness until you stop looking for it. My greatest happiness consists precisely in doing nothing whatever that is calculated to obtain happiness:  and this, in the minds of most people, is the worst possible course.
                                                                -  Chuang Tzu  ( ca 300 BC)
    [As edited by Thomas Merton in “The Way of Chuang Tzu” 1965]

     irit

  • Anonymous

    The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band:I’m Bored

    At the local dance, whilst posing by the door
    A largie begged: “would I come on the floor?”
    Above the band, my voice was heard,
    Quite suddenly it had occurred to me:
    I’m bored!

    I’m bored with everything I touch and see
    I’m bored with exposes of LSD
    I’m bored with Frank Sinatra’s new LP
    And so I roar (shoo-be-do-be-do)
    I’m bored.

    Drinking different coloured wines or beers
    (Chug-a-lug chug-a-lug)
    Just quite frankly leaves me bored to (tears for souvenirs)
    And quite apart from what one hears,
    I’ve been like this for years and years
    You see? Ennui.

    I’m bored with Mother Nature or her son
    I’m bored with everything that should be done
    And so, I just poke out my big red tongue and [raspberry]
    I’m bored.

    I’m tired of art!
    (Drawing bored)
    Sex is a drag!
    (In a bawdy house, I dare say.)
    Awk! Australians bore me!
    (You mean the a-bore-iginals, don’t you?)
    I’m bored to death!
    (Like mortar board)

    I am bored.
    [Repeat many times, round-style]
    This is boredom you can afford, from Cyril Bored

    I hate each Julie Andrews film they’ve made,
    I’m just a nasty narrow-minded jade.
    Don’t think that I will smile at it,
    I’m not a weak-willed hypocrite,
    I’ll say: I’m bored!

    I’m bored with with-it men in spotty ties
    Who hum (hmm-hmm-hmm-hmm) tiresome tunes like Edelweiss
    I’m bored, and when I hear it
    In a trice, I shout, I’m bored!

    The only thing that ever interests me…
    Is ME! (Me! Meee! Me! Me!…)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgMI0BObEXI

  • g, Buffalo, NY

    My favorite director, Andrey Tarkovsky said “A man should never be bored!”

    When you have nothing else to do, dreaming, is a good escape from boredom!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1320887009 Charli Henley

    Mr. Toomey, what are you thoughts on the relationship between boredom and depression?

  • http://profiles.google.com/barry.kort Barry Kort

    Boredom is the mother of adventure.

    Compare boredom to wanderlust or yearning.

    Boredom can also be a gateway to creativity.  See, for example, the creative mathematical doodles of Vi Hart (http://vihart.com/doodling/) which she engages in to escape the boredom of math class.

  • Loring Palmer, Somerville

    Please:  what is the relationship between boredom and meditation?  Because my experience has been that to know myself through meditation and contemplation has relieved me from ever being bored.  A gap in the action, like waiting for the train, is an opportunity to go within, to practice meditation.  Jon Kabat-Zinn has a lot to say about this in his best-seller, WHEREVER YOU GO, THERE YOU ARE, “Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.”  If you do this soul-work, you’ll enter the interior world of the divine that you’ve been running away from. 

    • OnPoint listner

      Wow… I’m totally with you.  Most people filled their day with “to-do-list”, never allow themselves to take time to enter their own inner subconsciousness world.  I found doing this is important for every human being, and the world would be a so much better place to live, if most of us just take some time and put soul-work on our daily to-do-list. 

      Pull ourselves away from worldly events sometimes, we don’t need to constantly participate events, which we have always been encouraged and brought up this way.  We have always been taught human are social animals, but this term of defining who we are has been mistakenly defined and over emphasized.

      MY process of finding inner peace is through understanding human relations with nature, vise versa, understand human nature through psychological and philosophical studies.  Soul searching is quite a work, and it continues, how can we ever be bored?

  • Beth

    I always think there’s a meditative quality to doing boring tasks (washing dishes, sweeping floors, chopping onions, what have you); it lets you be present in your tasks but lets your brain quiet down for a bit.  I feel like that’s when buried insights & memories bubble to the surface.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001209566950 Daniel Marshall

    Boredom-  I like ”What a day for a Day Dream, what a day for a day dreaming boy, I been having a day dream on someone’s new mowed lawn-Oh-ya……. Lovin’ Spoonful….dude……..dm

  • Kat

    I am currently out of work for a couple months, and going back in august, and i am going through periods of boredom with my time off. I think this must be the type 1 boredom that was mentioned. I feel that I have been experiencing the type 2 boredom as a constant, the feeling of disquiet and restlessness. i almost feel like this must be a type of depression, a dissatisfaction in yourself. I have plenty to do, and many things that i would like to do, but this boredom is creating inertia.

  • Anne

    When we would go to our Mom and say “I’m bored” she’d reply, with a voice full of delight for us, “What a wonderful opportunity to find something to do!”  We’d always flounce away, disgruntled. But now I know she was really right.  Love my Mom.

  • GeorgefromRehoboth

    A woman at a cocktail party says to me one night, “The human mind is not designed to grasp tragedies unfolding around the world,” and went on to tell me she prefers local matters, only…as if to tell me in no uncertain terms, she can’t handle this information abundance and is bored by these news stories probably because she can’t offer any solution or make any difference? 

    Can one be “beaten-up” by endless messages, stimulation, and demands being made on you such that the experience of boredom leads to indifference that replaces engagement with the world that is otherwise an option, a kind of defensive mechanism designed to protect the psyche from overload. 

    George from Rehoboth, MA

    • drf

      One way to look at it is that if the remote tragedies aren’t anything you can change or that materially affect your decisions, they aren’t information they are effectively trivia.  It is information if it resolves some kind of uncertainty or decision in your life, otherwise, it’s trivial.  Spending your time on things that you can’t change or can’t change you is perhaps a recipe for boredom. 

    • OnPoint listener

      Interesting observation.  I found myself work the other way around, I care more for colossal issues, and often ignore local news.  I think part of it is I don’t like to be directly attached myself to any local event (certain events, not all of them), I found them trivial , it’s probably a trait of having a tendency being a loner type of person.  Having said that, I also understand the importance of paying attention to local issues. 

      I’m in the processing of balancing that scale. 

  • Sam

    Being bored at your job is probably the worst!

    Soul sucking corporate gigs that you keep for the paycheck’s sake.

  • Atlanta

    I feel like there’s a big difference between leading a life that is predictable and slow, and leading a life that is lacking in meaning, as far as whether one’s boredom is luscious (well put, Tom) or toxic.

  • Stephanie S.

    Do you think boredom is really just a form of loneliness? I find it hard to be bored when I’m with someone I connect with, no matter what we’re doing.

  • Harley Laing

    I agree with the notion that boredom can be healthy – I am constantly bombarded by our various media and problems and issues.  I am sitting in my living room now with NPR in the background but modtly looking out at the beauty of our back garden.  I have one thing to do today and I’ll spend some time preparing for it but not in a pressured way – I am retired, somewhat early, at age 58, now 67, and rretirement can be improved by getting used to some “boredom”, which I consider to be time to actually think by myself!

  • Aileen

    It seems to me that boredom has more to do with being required to do something you don’t want to do or being stuck in a situation where you have nothing you want to do.  Now that I have children and a few jobs and so forth, I just about always have something I want to do or am willing to do.
    Aileen

  • drf

    Seems like if you didn’t have the lower levels of Maslows needs hierarchy, you wouldn’t notice you were bored.  Or that if you have the luxury to feel bored, you are pretty far up in the hierarchy.

  • Jim Infantino

    Boredom is extremely important. It is the ordinary act of denying the present moment. We, as Tony says, stand in line at the DMV and wish we were anywhere else. It gives us the opportunity to recognize that pulsing energy of NOWness from which we recoil. Once we pull out the iPhone, the opportunity is wasted.

  • Anonymous

    As a front line manager for a large municipal works department I have learned to value boredom. If I was bored at work it meant that everything was proceeding as expected… No crises, no road collapses, no labour unrest, no blizzards, no special events to plan or execute. If things were “interesting” it meant a great deal of stress and anxiety for me. I’m reminded of that ancient Chinese curse … “May you live in interesting times!”

  • Frank Reynolds

    In practice meditation, one cultivates boredom by consciously entering a situation where all of our entertainments and diversions are temporarily removed and foregone.  There are two general categories of boredom:  “cool” boredom and “hot” boredom.  With hot boredom, your skin is crawling for some form of entertainment or relief.  With cool boredom, on the other hand, you’re relieved of the relentless speed and pressure of life’s demands and of your own mind.  Cool boredom, in a meditative/contemplative milieu, is a gateway to deeper experiential understanding of life that can be called “wisdom” or “spiritual realization” or even “enlightenment” but which can’t really be captured in words.  My point is that the opening to this deeper experience of life is a willingness to forego our usual preoccupations and patterns of grasping/avoidance and be cooly bored.

    Frank Reynolds
    Irasburg, Vermont

  • Ed~

    Having traveled through various parts of the world in my early years, currently living in the high deserts of AZ listening to this show, I find myself frustrated that no one has yet explained the cultural of American or Western Culture plays into perceptions of boredom. 

    Inaction and boredom are not the same. Yet our ‘Just Do It’ culture equates the two and thus makes this discussion messy. 

    Boredom is a disconnection from the world around us. It may well be a defensive emotion as Toohey describes, but as a young male caller said paying deeper attention to the world around us when “nothing” is going on (or as he described waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicle) can prevent boredom from setting in. Boredom is not a given but can be an indicator of your state of mind.

  • J. from Jamaica Plain MA, USA

    If bored people are boring, we are a boring nation.

    Everyone experiences boredom, and they’re deluding themselves if they say they’re not. What we have now are myriad distractions, to take away the perception that we are bored. The truth remains that we are bored, very bored, bored to death.

    We are so bored that we must fill the blank space while standing in line for coffee with checking our email or texting our friends. We are so bored that we must install small screens in the back of headrests in automobiles to stave off – boredom! We are so bored that we have invented games and pastimes and contrivances and conveniences to give us the illusion that we are not bored, yet nonetheless we still are. In a nanosecond of boredom, we change channels, change devices, change relationships, because we are taught that the change will stave off the boredom we inherently feel.

    In my experience, from boredom springs thought and inspiration. Here’s to boredom!

  • Cedric Collins

    The constant stimulation of modern life does not eliminate boredom. In fact, we get used to constantly available, constantly changing input, and we don’t learnt to deal with monotony in any productive way. It’s a form of cultivated ADHD.

    • Laurie Easterin

      Yes Cedric.  As a teacher, I agree…kids think silence or asking them to create something is scary.  THAT’S scary!

  • perry

    If you’re bored, you’re not working hard enough. This weekend, i spent an hour on the porch listening to the birds chattering in the yard. It was the perfect workload for the moment. Another time, an hour lacking physical action, or personal interaction, would have been intensely boring: boring is in the person, not in the situation. On some days, daydreaming can be an appropriate work level, as can be following a slow movie. Other days, not so much. If you’re bored,find something you can work harder at.

  • Mawazz

    Just turned on the show. Great topic. Apologize if this great boredom poem’s already come up:

    Dream Song 14 by John Berryman

    Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,we ourselves flash and yearn,and moreover my mother told me as a boy(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re boredmeans you have noInner Resources.’ I conclude now I have noinner resources, because I am heavy bored.Peoples bore me,literature bores me, especially great literature,Henry bores me, with his plights & gripesas bad as achilles,who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a dragand somehow a doghas taken itself & its tail considerably awayinto mountains or sea or sky, leavingbehind: me, wag.

  • Shawn Marie

    Boredom is a LUXURY!! It means that an individual is not surrounded by crisis, trauma and must-respond situations. I grew up in a family that was constantly in crisis, and as an adult I’ve reveled in creating stability and routine — boring? Yes, and I love it!!

  • Atlanta

    It sounds like the current guest is talking about social cognition, which is present in both humans and chimpanzees.

  • Cary LeBlanc

    I think boredom is a great pause, one that places our body, mind, and spirit at rest so we can be ready for the next flurry of life’s activities. We need/can use it it to help us regenerate.

    Cary 

  • Atlanta

    right!  I forgot the term, but the default network – recently mapped in chimpanzees as well as humans.

  • BillyStingMe

    James Taylor has a song, “The Secret of Life” .  The Secret of Life is enjoying the passage of time, any fool can do it, there ain’t nothing to it….

  • Nora Zablow

    Responding especially to the 19-yr-old who can be “stuck in front of the TV” on a nice day.  This does not describe boredom.  Possibly apathy, lack of motivation, procrastination.  One who is not forced to be doing something has choices.  We have generations of tv-raised people who have a hard time creating their own amusement, entertainment.  My children had almost no TV and went to a Waldorf school for their early years (in the 80′s, pre-tech) and never complained about being bored, whatever the time of year or the weather, because they could alwayc imagine and create interesting things to do.

    If I sit in front of the TV it is to avoid doing other things I can’t gather the will to do, or to distract myself from worrying, etc. 

    To me, boredom can only occur when one has no choice but to participate actively or passively (as a student at a desk) in something that has not interest for them.  then, there is the option of daydreaming, which is a peasant and valuable activity.

    Nora Zablow

  • Laurie Easterlin

    I have NEVER been bored…truly.  I am a teacher, artist, and never end a day feeling like I had enough time.  Someone once asked my father how to create such a person and he said, “Lock them in their room when they are young without a thing to do…they’ll make a thing to do.” Of course, I wasn’t locked anywhere, but I was surrounded with art supplies, drama supplies, and lots of down time. I raise my children similarly.

  • Steve

    In my experience, boredom varies. There’s the “I’m sooooo bored,” uttered with a sigh. And then there’s the “I’m so f====ing bored!” said with fists clenched and teeth gritted.

    As for this idea that 21st-century modernity and technology have eliminated boredom, I couldn’t disagree more. Human relationships, the imagination, art, useful and meaningful work, the nearly infinity of natural phenomena have all existed since long before the internet, and have certainly managed to keep us going.

    Nevertheless, boredom has always and (most likely) will always be with us. Maybe it’s a sort of temporary breakdown of the mind’s ability to engage with whatever it is that it’s craving at that moment.

    I’m disappointed to hear people equate boredom with quiet contemplation. Daydreaming is not boredom. Boredom is not just having nothing to do, but simultaneously not being able to do something you want to do. Who knows.

    I think of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, when he accuses of Helen of being “too bored to be alive.”

  • Annette

    I’m never bored when I am doing “nothing”.  I feel boredom is a state that comes from doing something – being stuck with a drone who can’t stop talking and is not listening is the worst.  Or sitting through a bad movie.  I’d much rather be doing “nothing”!

  • Glk Saynotoboredom

    The late Viktor E. Frankl, a
    great Austrian psychologist and psychiatrist, the founder of the so-called Third
    Viennese School of Psychotherapy (after
    Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler), and author of internationally acclaimed book Man’s
    Search For Meaning, over 50 years ago
    diagnosed a societal illness that he called the Existential Vacuum.  This
    illness has infected affluent nations throughout the world.  People’s lives are empty; they wonder
    through life lost, without purpose and meaning.  BOREDOM, according to Frankl, is the main symptom of the
    existential vacuum.  And it is
    always accompanied with (what Frankl calls the boredom triad) addiction, depression and aggression. 

    In today’s talk, Prof.
    Toohey did mention that apart from regular boredom there exists “existential
    boredom.” However, he virtually did not discuss it, referring mostly to
    classical literature and gladiatorial games. 

    However, the situation is
    much more serious and telling.  One
    has only to look how much the boredom triad has spread in America to understand
    that the existential vacuum is among us. 
    “This show is boring” is fundamentally different from spending hours at
    TV that is obviously a kind of addiction, an attempt to quell boredom existential.

    When our kids (especially teenagers) say that they are
    bored, it is not just that teachers are boring.  It is that “teaching basic skills” has been systematically depriving them of knowledge that would build in their souls strong spiritual
    cores.  Degradation of our
    education, and a century long sabotaging of true educational reforms has led us
    to a dead end.  And this is one of
    the factors of spreading the existential vacuum.

     

    A more detailed discussion
    may be found in my website: http://www.saynotoboredom.com,
    dedicated to Viktor Frankl’s Centennial. 
    There, information can be found on my 2004 book This Unbearable
    Boredom of Being. A Crisis of Meaning in America, as well as essay Training or Education? America’s Cultural
    and Existential Dilemma, and a few other
    essays.

  • Sogalbu

    Hi Tom, comgratulations on your fantastic radio program. Boredom is, litterally, to me, linked to an unhealthy state of mind as a result of  the person feeling trapped, empty, which might be the starting point to depression or other more dangerous mental health conditions.
    On the other hand, “Otium,” from Latin, is leisure. Ocio is used in Spanish for leisure time with potential for physical activity, like dancing or walking, or to a profound state of contemplation and creativity. This should lead to the state of “All-One,” opposite to the today use of “alone,” with the sense of senseless idling, feelings of being a prisoner in any given situation, such as in an unhappy marriage, or in an endless waiting line, and/or a sense of existential abandonment.
    Regards-Mona

  • OnPoint listner

    Wow…
    I’m totally with you.  Most people filled their day with “to-do-list”,
    never allow themselves to take time to enter their own inner
    subconsciousness world.  I found doing this is important for every human
    being, and the world would be a so much better place to live, if most
    of us just take some time and put soul-work on our daily to-do-list. 

    Pull ourselves away from worldly events sometimes, we don’t need to
    constantly participate events, which we have always been encouraged and
    brought up this way.  We have always been taught human are social
    animals, but this term of defining who we are has been mistakenly
    defined and over emphasized.

    MY process of finding inner peace is through understanding human
    relations with nature, vise versa, understand human nature through
    psychological and philosophical studies.  Soul searching is quite a
    work, and it continues, how can we ever be bored?

     

  • Ellen Dibble

    If boredom is a capacity for peace/peacefulness, then it might be close to what David Brooks is trying to get at in his new book “The Social Animal” (or see the Charlie Rose rerun from last Friday of his 3/11/11 interview with Brooks on this), in pointing to huge amounts of processing that the brain conducts out of range of awareness.  Consider, he says, the job of picking out furniture.  You view the possibilities, and then let it all steep, before arriving at a choice.  I suppose dreams conduct a lot of this processing but it never stops.
         I think the ability to “compartmentalize” relates to this.  We heard that in reference to President Clinton during his impeachment days.  I won’t say it’s good or bad, but if you know a monster meteor is heading for earth, and you are manning the telescope, or if your husband is Missing in Action and you are trying to pull out all the stops, you’ve got a one-track mind that is bored because it is mostly frustrated, mostly thwarted, stressed, scanning nonstop for solutions that are not forthcoming.  After a point, you might kill yourself or go mad, or “compartmentalize” the challenge, essentially split.  Not to say become schizophrenic, but diversify your agenda.  Facing the barbarian throng, learn to “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” 
        I do think that simply “hanging out,” registering the dimensions of other human beings, wipes out boredom.  
        If parents find their children saying they’re bored, the children at least recognize the fact.  Their brains are primed for something that is not forthcoming.  It could be a warning sign. 
       (I missed the show, but read the comments.  Interesting.)

  • Larry Duff

    Human beings have a natural need for stimulus, but much of what is called ‘boredom’ is really a mask for what happens when people have a break in the distraction of constant stimulus to occupy themselves. They start to feel the background level of the pain they’ve been avoiding most of their lives. We all carry pain, mostly from childhood experiences that remains unconscious/beneath awareness until either something overpoweringly painful happens to us (death, big loss, divorce/relationship ending, etc.), or, we have a pause in the constant distraction/stimulation that we feed on in all our waking hours. We start to feel what we’re really feeling and are very uncomfortable with that, so desperately need distraction from that (underlying feelings of loss, unmet needs, fear). The solution is to learn to pause/stop and face/feel those feelings. But that probably isn’t possible, at least on a long term basis, without some sort of spiritual foundation that is real/sound, as well as real connections with people who are also not just living their lives in avoidance of their real needs/feelings.

  • Larry Duff

    To add to my previous post:

    Much of what people call boredom is a disconnection from our real feelings, being shut down emotionally. When one becomes really connected to one’s feelings, it may be really uncomfortable at times, but is not boring. But we also need a bigger spiritual context and principles to live our lives by and within that is sound and real; a connection with a ‘Higher Power’ and It’s purpose for our lives (our own healing, service to others, connection to nature, real inner life/awareness). 

  • PM

    Twitter, Facebook, and the Internet in general do not prevent boredom. Their very existence is, in part, a product of boredom.  A sign.  I will even go so far as to say that a more than perceptible percentage of Anthony Weiner’s online troubles link with his inability to find a constructive outlet for his boredom.  Great show–cheers.

  • OnPoint listner

    No matter how many friends/activities we have, most importantly, we want to feel “connected”, be it with online or personal interactions.  One can have many friends/activities, but don’t feel fulfilled or connected, vise versa. 

    Life feeds on life, the very basic meaning of our existence.

  • OnPoint listner

    Interesting show, not boring at all.  Love the callers’ questions.  

  • Fakeemails

    Mexican author Roberto Bolano called facing boredom an act of bravery.  Any thoughts?

    • OnPoint listner

      I can see that, sort of like facing “loneliness”.  But he didn’t define “facing boredom”?  In replacing with certain action or non action, or some kind of brain activity?

  • who?

    …people who are never bored are BORING, especially talk show hosts who pretend to be interested in each day’s program without bothering to keep the discussion away from obvious and BORING comments/ arguments/ callers…

    • OnPoint listner

      *** …people who are never bored are BORING ***

      That’s what I say…  :)

  • Jeff

    Albert Einstein once said “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”  And that was a half century before the age of endless entertainment.  Between movies, radio, tv audiobooks and so much more, we never have a chance think for a ourselves.  Instead we are thinking other peoples thoughts that are not our own and that limits our creativity.

    • OnPoint listner

      *** Between movies, radio, tv audiobooks and so much more ***

      Don’t forget those “innocent” books too.  People always leaves books out as if books are not part of media materials.

  • Bbirge

    Fabulous, valuable show! Thanks to all the guest and especially to the caller who reads Henry James. 

  • Isernia

    A.O. Scot’s description of boring films as those where there has to be action, fast-moving scenes, inane dialogue, exaggeration of human emotion, and most of all PREDICTABILITY( = BORING) reminds me that all of these exploitive devices make a big impression on our l4 year old grandson, while Grandpa and I find these very characteristics BORING in films.  Perhaps AGE and life’s EXPERIENCES distinguishes our very different reactions to entertainment….or is this too obvious an observation to even mention here.

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  • Robert Gladstone, MD

    The discussants missed a key element:  Depending on the degree to which an individual’s expression of emotion is supported in childhood, a person will struggle to avoid attention to their own feelings.  A fortunate, healthy individual is comfortable experiencing their own inner life freely and it feels rich, leads to creativity, etc.  The person who must struggle to avoid their own emotions constantly seeks to be distracted from them.  When there is little distraction available, they say they are “bored”.  (When they lose the struggle to control their emotional experience, they become depressed.)  Such people have much trouble being alone with their feelings.
    This is an enormously important facet of modern life, one that Tom and his guests missed by treating boredom as though it would be experienced universally in the same way.  One can make a good case that emotional repression is increasing as time goes on, and the ramifications are enormous, not only for creativity and emotional comfort, but also for connection with reality as opposed to “living in one’s head” in intellectual structures that are divorced from the real world.  Much more could be said…

  • Jux

    I am very rarely bored.  But yesterday’s show was excruciating.  Even the unflappable Tom seemed riled by that guy’s inability to make his point.  In the first 10 minutes Tom asked if boring can feel good and relaxing and he said YES.  Huh?  I was gone after that. 

    • OnPoint listener

      It was kind of boring at the beginning, but it got more interesting later with the 2nd guest and questions from callers.

  • Snapper1200

    I’m sorry to say, but this was not a great show.  Your guest is very knowledgeable and all, but the show itself ended up being …well…boring.  This never happens to me with your shows, and I look forward to logging on every day to hear what you have going on, but this show did not do it for me.

    Keep up all the great work on the other 99.9% of good shows.

  • MoonSafari

    god! this show was so boring.

  • Sonjagrinstead

    Like the great 19th century playwright Anton Checkhov, I am more interested in “what goes on in the human body” not from any medical stance, although physical condition is connected to the spiritual condition which is my very thrust.  Putting Boredom In It’s Place is a prime example and exhoration of what is biblical direction where boredom is concerned.  While the human was born with a human spirit, there is a condition of spirit that changes dramatically when an encounter with God is experienced. Boredom is out of the natural realm but there IS a spiritual condition the expells boredom which then has no power to hold down or dictate to the high life of the spirit filled as in (biblical quote John 3:3) KJ, …Boredom is the lowest condition of the human spirit which is altogether longing for the  u l t i m a t e  in activity, progress, enthusiasm, creativity, and much more.  But the human was created with a “will” of his or her own to make the decision of staying in the inner human condition, or receiving by faith through Jesus Christ the highest form of life, energy, love, peace, joy, opportunity, and the many giftings and callings of God for the fulfillment of his very existance.  The human physical body is subject to disease, oppression, suppression, and bondage because of wrong choices in that life,  BUT the spiritual healing that is available through an acceptance of God, is for the physical body as well as the human spiritual condition.  For your information and consideration,  I write out of my personal experience, biblical quote, …”I was lost but now I am found” and the infallible truth is scriptural in that I became a new creation “in the spirit” which has compassion for the unknowing of the splendour and grace that is available for all who do not want to accept the boreing life, …life is too short!!!

  • http://www.qlineorientalist.com/Evan QLineOrientalist

    I’m sorry, but this was horribly boring. I had to turn it off after twenty minutes. I’m still recovering.

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  • Don

    Nothing more boring than a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in rural Iowa. Such stultifying blandness produces rebels; I had to leave.

  • Slipstream

    There is no such thing as boredom.  What most people consider boredom is in reality a mild form of depression.  When this depression is brout on by being stuck in uninteresting circumstances or in dull tasks, then people say they are bored.  When a teenager, sitting around the house  on a beautiful day, not knowing what to do with himself, says he is bored, then he is suffering from a mild (and hopefully temporary) depression.

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