It wasn’t until after I’d read Charles Dickens’ Bleak House some years back, (first published as a serial between 1852 and 1853) that I learned of the claim that his use of the word ‘boredom’ in that novel was a first, although apparently the word existed before.
Back in my childhood, as I remember, I would go to my mum and complain that I was bored and she would always snap back with “Well go and find something to do then!”
Looking back I can see how me going to her about my lack of enthusiasm for anything was my way of saying “find me something to do” as if it was her responsibility, and her shirking her responsibility by making it my own.
Now, whenever someone tells me they’re bored, like if I’ve just greeted someone online and asked how they are, the response in my head is “That’s not my problem” because it seems whenever someone tells me they’re bored then they are trying to make it my problem and my responsibility to alleviate them of this feeling, just as I used to do. If I don’t know the person (which is generally the case because I doubt I tolerate friends who tell me they’re bored, at least not repeatedly so) then I assume they’re young and somewhat immature (although alarmingly they might not always be so young). This is harsh of me, I know, but it’s like they haven’t yet learned the art of finding something to do, and I don’t want it to be my problem. Plus, I can also find it offensive if someone in my company feels bored; it’s like they’re telling me I’m boring. I also don’t like to feel like I’m the one always coming up with something to do; although regrettably I am sure I have actually been the boring one around certain friends online while they’re seeking things for us to do. I do also worry that a persistent sense of boredom among friends, or even strangers, or within myself is a symptom of depression.
Boredom is a state of mind that one gets into whereby even once exciting things around us don’t, in that period of the sense of the feeling, appear appealing. Therefore, presenting something that was, on a previous occasion, exciting, or is exciting and fun or funny to me, will perhaps not appear to them as such during this episode. Some people seem perpetually in a state of boredom and as such, well, they may be considered boring people to everyone around them. It’s like some people know no better; it’s all relative. I sense a lot of this online in the virtual world that is Second Life, or perhaps it’s just me reflecting my feelings onto my perception of others when they stand around for hours on end, not seeming to talk to anyone.
When I heard the phrase “Only boring people get bored” (whenever this was) I instantaneously decided I didn’t want to be considered a boring person, so I would quickly find something to do, just as my mum had taught me. Or so I thought; it now seems that I also reframe the term or feeling in my head to something else, just so I don’t have to consider myself to be boring.
These days I really struggle with “passive” activities; I struggle to watch a film, something on Youtube, or read a book without making something of it; turning it into something active. I constantly find points of interest that I want to mull over, make a note of, or write about further. I’m somewhat surprised that I can follow a 30 minute yoga sequence on Youtube without craving for something more… “doing”, thankfully they do generally keep my attention although I do have to tell myself not to worry “it’s only 30 minutes” even though the way time slows down it can feel significantly longer, and that I’m somehow wasting part of my day.
The thing with passive activities as I consider them, is that you’re relying on something or someone else to entertain you. With the case of films or games (even though the latter can be considered active) these can cost money. When my brother complains he’s bored of his selection of games and films, and that there’s nothing current that appeals to him, or how much he’s just spent on his recent online order, I come out with a comment about the library and its free selection of books; usually gloatingly. Of course, mentioning books to people who say they “don’t read” is usually met with a reply stating that books are boring.
The German word for boring is ‘langweilig’ (pronounced ‘lang-vile-ish’), and the root word ‘lang’ means long, and ‘langsam’ means slow. Then back to English we have ‘languishing’ which means a lack of vitality, growing weak, being forced to remain in an unpleasant place or situation. I think this is very fitting because the feeling of boredom is a sense of slowness, like how a slow day feels long and dull, and it’s a feeling we can feel trapped in. Perpetually bored people, from the perspective of anyone else (at least the non-bored ones), therefore seem to be slow, and dull. The rest of the world with its hyper-exciting and fast paced-ness, its bright colours and flashing screens, caffeine and sugar-fuelled, sex and glamour mean that the opposite extreme must be hyperly dull, slow and dismal; this such wide spectrum, as it can surely only be, concerns me to the point of sometimes avoiding highs or fearing them, because I expect a low of equal proportions to follow.
It seems to me that when people seek medical help for either depression or hyper-activity-disorder, they are put on, well, medication, and this stabilises their mood so that the lows aren’t so low and the highs aren’t so high. I do the same with coffee; I feel like I need a cup a day, or I seek one as a ‘pick-me-up’. Somehow this balance is sought and I’ve been pondering what it means when I came across an oldish Youtube video of Tom Cruise talking about how there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance in the brain (I mentioned this in a previous blog post on Star Children, for which there is a link below); if there’s no such thing as a chemical imbalance in the brain, then what are we medicating such people for? By this I mean, perhaps we shouldn’t be; at best I think we should focus on everything else before we medicate ourselves or others, considering diet and exercise among other things. I don’t quite understand how there can’t be an imbalance in my own brain when one sniff of coffee, or a mention of it, and I become somewhat giggly (even online friends have picked up on this!) Perhaps the shift isn’t necessarily a chemical one, but an electrical one, but perhaps this can still be said to be not an imbalance but the brain working perfectly normal, but to reframe it into “not an imbalance” is like me reframing my “boredom” into something else, just so I don’t have to consider myself to be a boring person.
So the issue is not so much with being bored, it kinda seems inevitable, since the world around us makes it so, it’s what we do to compensate. The best we can do is indeed “find something to do” but really that something should be something creative and constrictive; there can be bad things like turning to coffee, or worse, to pick up our mood [I’m ignoring the empty cup on my desk as I write this]; like with writer’s block it is said the way to overcome it is to just write.
I finally wrote this topic after I came across the term Anhedonia, coined by French psychologist Théodule-Armand Ribot (December 18, 1839 – December 9, 1916). Anhedonia is, according to Wikipedia “the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable, e.g. exercise, hobbies, music, sexual activities or social interactions.” It sounds like boredom to me.
Star Children, Tom Cruise and chemical imbalances in the brain: