I’ve noticed over the years that boredom is both a symptom and cause of malaise and, although it can do no end of damage, it tends not to be taken very seriously as a problem and little, if any, sympathy is offered to sufferers. The usual reaction to a complaint of boredom seems to be a dismissive comment about it being the person’s own fault and that if you’re bored you’re boring. Which is not very helpful.
What I’m talking about here is not the fleeting pangs we all experience from time to time of wishing something more interesting was going on and looking hopefully around for distraction. This is a normal part of life and nothing to worry about. We don’t need to be stimulated and entertained on a constant basis – in fact, creativity usually thrives best in empty hours when nothing much is happening.
When I say boredom is a symptom of malaise, I mean people who feel stuck in an unfulfilling long-term situation may experience their frustration and gloom as boredom. Their lives may be full of activities that would absorb and uplift someone different but, because something vital is missing or wrong, their senses are deadened and they feel bored. Certainly this was my experience. The years I spent suppressing my own needs and desires in order to do what I thought was expected of me were covered in a thick, grey, suffocating blanket of boredom.
When I say boredom is a cause of malaise, I mean it can lead us to behave in ways we know are destructive to ourselves and often to others – eating, drinking, taking drugs, picking fights, having affairs, committing crimes, just for something to do.
And the danger is that this can become a vicious circle. I’m unfulfilled, so I indulge in behaviour I hope will stimulate me. Instead, it makes me feel even more stuck and hopeless. I feel worse… even more bored… so I return to the behaviour I dislike but which gives me temporary relief from my boredom.
How can we best confront this? It’s a tricky one because we need to tread the fine line between keeping ourselves busy in a positive way and not keeping ourselves busy in a negative way. The negative way is to fill up our time and our mind with activities that keep us from ever having the opportunity to think deeply about what the real problem is and to find a solution to it. No amount of thrill-seeking is going to compensate for a failed career or a bad relationship; this is using sticking plasters when you need antibiotics.
The first and main priority, if you’re experiencing persistent boredom, is to allow yourself to examine your feelings and work out what’s really wrong, and then take radical action to solve the problem. I know this is easy to say but, as one who has done it, I can tell you the feeling of reengaging with life and being able to enjoy it and be at peace with it is worth every ounce of stress it takes to get there.
Alongside this, there are ways we can deflect ourselves from sliding into behaviours we wish we wouldn’t keep doing. Often, I find, a shake-up of routine is enough to stop me eating too much junk or drinking too much alcohol – when I’m stimulated in other ways I simply forget to yearn for pizza and a glass of wine. This is not a long-term solution but it helps me to remember that I don’t actually need these things, I just want them, and how strong an influence habit is.
Destructive behaviour is an attempt to meet a need, so the most effective way of changing it is to identify the need it’s meeting in you and then find healthy alternatives that will do the same job.