Boredom

I have said it before and I will say it again: boredom is a state of mind. When a person complains of being bored he is simply telling us that he has an empty mind. There is no reason whatever why anyone in this world should be bored. Ever. Not even now.

The coronavirus is taking its toll on Americans as they begin to realize that they have nothing to say to those near them and they are running out of things to do. I have heard a number of people complain how bored they are. The other day a professional golfer was interviewed and when asked what he was doing to waste away the hours and he said he was binge-watching movies on television and asked the interviewer to recommend titles as he was running out of ideas — and he was bored to death.

When I coached tennis I recruited players from around the world: Colombia, Holland, Finland, Mexico, among other places. These were the only players I could get because our facilities were so terrible (three lay-cold courts outside and a wooden gym floor with lines for two indoor courts pasted down every Spring). Local players of any caliber would visit, take one look and say “no thanks.

There were a few remarkable exceptions, of course, but the foreign players didn’t realize how bad the facilities were until they got to town. And then it was too late! But they came from great distances and couldn’t simply get in a car and take off for a week-end or even Thanksgiving. So they remained on campus and I never heard any one of them complain about how bored she was.

These were remarkable young women who were not only bright but also enterprising: they found ways to entertain themselves and fill their time. Among other things, they read books and got ahead in their studies.

But we hear complaints on every side as we are now forced to stay at home and find ways to spend our time. I say “we” knowing full well that there are those who play down the seriousness of the pandemic and stroll about in crowds. But should we take them seriously? Surely not. But finding things to do to entertain minds trained to open themselves to electronic stimuli is not easy for a great many people. It is nearly impossible for others.

One simply wonders what these people would do if there weren’t any electronic devices to provide them with entertainment. The golfer I mentioned above will find more movies. There are enough to fill anyone’s weeks and months. And there are games and sports replays a-plenty. So the notion that these are boring times needs to be qualified to read: “I have an empty mind and cannot find a way to fill it.” Just imagine how empty it would be if there were no electronic media to fill the void!

We Americans are terribly spoiled and are used to having things our own way. That’s at the root of the problem — though the fact that people don’t read any more and have little or no imagination with which to invent new ways of spending time is also a factor.

In any event let’s stop complaining and look around and realize that there is really so very much to fill our lives — and perhaps those we must now spend many hours with are well worth getting to know!

15 thoughts on “Boredom

  1. Well said. If someone says they are bored, the question should be asked, well what are you going to do about it? Books, puzzles, reading online, watching online, exercise, meditation, etc.

  2. Interesting article, Hugh. I’m of the opinion that the word “boredom” is vastly over-used by people, and that many who say they are bored right now, and plenty do, may not be bored but rather scared, and choose to distract themselves with anything rather than confront their fears and try to move past them. Living in the epicenter of the Minnesota part of the pandemic, Hennepin County, I’m scared too, and we need to be to do our part in stopping the spread of the virus. I don’t think I’ve ever used the term “bored” to describe myself but then I have a very large library and don’t own a television. I do find comfort in connecting with friends on facebook though and sorting out real news from fake news plus offering stories of courage and compassion from around the world. Thanks for your thoughtful post. I too dislike the term “bored” and hear it very seldom from people of our age.

  3. My kids try not to say they are bored because I’ll assign a chore for something to do. My son who is a junior in high school is reading voraciously during this time – re-reading books, too, as the library is closed. Our family ping pong skills have also improved tremendously. My kids still are on their phones and play video games, but we’re having family movie nights, too. There’s just no excuse to be bored.

  4. Dr. Curtler,

    Your comments resonate with me.

    I am over 70 years and and I cannot recall ever having been bored. There are times when I have been distracted or uninterested in what was going on around me — faculty meetings come to mind — but straying thoughts were precisely what kept me from boredom. Daydreamers are not bored. They are simply escaping the moment. 😎

    Though I long since have learned to act like an extroverted person, it is just that — an act. I am essentially an introvert. As such, I do not seek external stimulation so much as internal stimulation. The idea that having nothing to do is problematic is simply is beyond me. I enjoy sitting by myself and thinking about things that interest me. Always have. Reading is not solace; it is joy. Crowds of people are enervating. Always have been.

    I told my children when they were old enough to understand that they should never complain of “being bored” in my presence, for I would surely find something to engage their attention. Their mother felt the same way. We acted upon our statements, too. Needless to say, we did not hear much grumbling about “”being bored” — and the lawn always got mowed.

    I understand that there are people who feel the need for constant external stimulation. I understand this only at an intellectual level. I understand introversion and extroversion as deeply-embedded social psychological phenomenon much in the manner of Carl Jung, not as “other-directedness”, not simply as behavior, per se. But personally, I just don’t grok it. Never did.

    If this is my problem, then so be it. It is a problem I relish.

    It has always been a source of amusement, and sometimes amazement, to me that many academicians who are by temperament introverted still must carry on the “duties” of an extroverted person. Indeed, those who cannot pull this off are in for hard times. Few others among us, especially the extroverted, can comprehend how draining this can be. I find this one of many interesting antinomies of the academic life.

    Shakespeare’s soliloquy from “As You Like It” has always resonated with me:

    “All the world’s a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players;
    They have their exits and their entrances;
    And one man in his time plays many parts,..”

    Intended as a comment on the inevitable experience of aging, and it is a good one at that, I also relate to these words as the experience of an introvert playing the part of an extrovert. Passing strange.

    As always, you have offered interesting comments.

    Regards, respects, and best wishes.

    Jerry Stark

    • Jerry, As an introvert and past 70 and a former academic, I relate to much of what you say here. Day dreaming is NOT boredom. And teaching – so much human contact – is exhausting for introverts. And those department meeting? a great time to daydream and enjoy one’s own mind. Well said.

      • Good comments. I think Jerry is spot on: boredom is simply a word we apply to the absence of external stimuli. And in a culture that prides itself in providing diversion we can infer that the feeling of being bored is an acquired characteristic — the lack of adequate stimuli at the moment..

      • For me, the word boredom is just another word for intellectual indolence. for which I have an exceedingly low tolerance.

  5. My nieces, whom I love dearly, often post on Facebook about how bored they are. Even before the isolation caused by the coronavirus, these young women age 16 – 25 in age, were ‘bored’. My answer to them is always some variation of this:

    “BORED??? You have got to be kidding me? The last time I recall being bored was when I was 10 years old and confined to a hospital bed for over a month! How can you be bored when there are millions of books to read? Why do you even turn on the television … stir up those grey cells in your head by taking a walk in nature and understanding the differences between us and other species. Make yourself think by writing an article about … anything! Read more, talk less. You have at your fingertips every technological gadget known to mankind, yet only dreamed of when I was your age, and yet … and yet you are bored??? Go talk to an elderly person, ask them what their life was like “back in the day”. Get off your sweet patootie and do something, THINK, read, ponder. Boredom is all in your head, darling hija … if you’re that bored, write your old Auntie J a letter!”

    You’re right, Hugh … it is a state of mind, and television is not the answer! Personally, since the shuttering of businesses and relative isolation, I have been busier than ever trying to just stay on top of the news … I now spend at least 14 hours a day on research and writing, and my main complaint is that I don’t have time to breathe! Bored? Bah Humbug!

  6. We are never bored around here and I will leave those details for another time.

    Two points, I was one of those college tennis players who was never bored in Marshall, MN. We had a mission and vision as teammates- to become better athletes and students and we enjoyed each other’s friendships. If we had free time, which wasn’t much, we liked to be together and that is how we used our time.

    Second, I regularly ask my kids, what do you want to get good at? Then I have them right those items down and then if they date say they are bored, I just pull out the list to remind them of what they want to get good at.

    Maybe part of solving boredom is a healthy, friendly reminder of their own potential.

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