I recently read an article in the July/August issue of Scientific American Mind on boredom. It seems the definition of boredom came from the novel “Bleak House” by Charles Dickens, set during the time of societal transition. In the novel, “Sir Dedlock tenderly asks his wife, ‘Is it still raining, my love?’ To which she replies; ‘Yes, my love. And I am bored to death with it. Bored to death with this place. Bored to death with my life. Bored to death with myself.’ Through Lady Dedlock’s plight, Dickens introduced a new English word into the written canon – boredom.” The French call it “ennui,” which to me sounds a lot more sophisticated. To turn to someone and tell them you are suffering from “ennui” makes me feel like I’m lying on a couch in a mansion sipping a martini in one hand and a cigarette holder in the other. Just saying “I’m bored” feels so blase.
When I was a young child, the word boredom could not be uttered in my household. My mother would not tolerate any time ill spent whining about having nothing to do. If she heard the words “I’m bored,” she would immediately hand me a dust mop, broom, or rag and tell me to start cleaning something, anything. I learned early on that if I didn’t want to be the housekeeper, I had to look busy all the time, doing homework, reading, or playing outside.
Today parents seem to want to do anything not to have their children feel any boredom at all. Most often the parents provide the entertainment, play dates, athletics, computer games and such are all a part of today’s parenting. The interesting thing is that boredom can be something that helps test our imagination. If we are constantly being entertained, we have no opportunity to learn how to entertain ourselves.
But there is also a dark side to boredom. Long periods of boredom are often associated with depression and can also be the aftermath of a brain injury. It does not always hold true, but we are meant to engage in life and when we feel a lack of motivation or enthusiasm, it can lead to illness. In fact according to the article, you can actually die of boredom. “Lack of the ability to immerse oneself in the world outside our head could lead us to evaluate our experiences as meaningless.” In the end it is the need for meaning that allows us to thrive. When we lead meaningful lives it gives us a reason to get up every morning with the hope that the day will bring us joy. So keep an eye on your boredom meter, it might save your life!