The Paradox of Boredom

There are many opposing views on boredom. Some say that it is a necessary evil that one must accept and then move on with life. Others say that it is just evil and must be fought with all the strength one can muster, and if one succumbs to it, he or she is doomed. What exactly is boredom? Which view, or views, applies to boredom in reality? Is it something that needs to be dealt with and overcome, or embraced with open arms?

Boredom is neither and both of those things.  It is a paradox. Boredom has a paradoxical effect on modern society in the sense that it can lead to both positive and negative results. It inspires one to seek out activities to fill his or her time in a meaningful manner, whose outcomes can have positive or terrible impacts on society. Boredom itself is neither a good nor bad thing; peoples’ responses to boredom are the things that positively or negatively impact society.


 History of Boredom

It is important to delve into a subject’s history when trying to fully understand and articulate one’s views on it: therefore, I will begin by discussing the history of boredom. Only recently, starting in the 1930s, have psychologists and philosophers taken an interest in the concept of boredom and have studied it intensely (McRobbie). The term hasn’t been around for very long, in comparison to human civilization.

Boredom first appeared in the English language in 1852. However, the concept has been around as early as the second century AD, called ‘acedia’, and defined as the listlessness and restlessness mainly afflicted those with a large amount of time unoccupied by the basic necessities of life on their hands, such as monks or the wealthy upper class. It was considered to be a sin akin to sloth and a rejection of God and the Divine Creation by the Christians. During the Renaissance, it was considered to be less of a sin and more of a type of depression caused by prolonged studying of math and science. It evolved further to the French term ‘ennui’ in the 1600s, which encompassed listlessness and displeasure closer to that of boredom (McRobbie).

For the full article on boredom’s history, click here:


What we know today as boredom is considered to be a modern concept, and culmination of the evolution of acedia into ennui and now casually used to describe any feeling loosely related to disinterest or listlessness in every day life. It is important to understand how boredom came to be defined as it is today in order to fully understand it; after all, as Nietzsche says, one cannot “base themselves on man at a particular period of time and then turn [that] into an eternal truth.” In order to make a statement about boredom that holds true for all instances, as opposed to just one, it is imperative to discuss its many facets instead of just one portion.





Types of Boredom and Their Impacts on Society

            There are two main types of boredom that philosophers and psychologists focus on: situational, or mundane, boredom, and profound boredom. Situational boredom is the act of being ‘bored by’, or a momentary feeling of boredom that will quickly pass. Profound boredom, on the other hand, is the act of being bored with boredom: it is the type of boredom that is considered by many to be an existential problem.

            Situational boredom can be described as a ‘lighter’ type of boredom that can easily be overcome. One feels this type of boredom when one experiences a momentary lack of activity or disinterest in an activity, but knows that it is only temporary. This type of boredom, since it can be easily overcome, leads one to find productive means to occupy is his or her time. This type of boredom often leads one to find something meaningful to do with one’s time, because it is easy to identify the problem and overcome it.

            Profound boredom is a much ‘darker’, deeper category of boredom. It is often described as an indicator of one’s ‘existential crisis’ by philosophers such as Heidegger, a German philosopher, and Lars Svendsen, a Swedish philosopher. This kind of boredom is harder to overcome, so it leads to more drastic measures. Instead of simply finding a way to productively occupy time, it leads people who feel it to question the point of the their existence, which is a question much harder to answer than “what should I do now?” This type of boredom is very hard to identify: many mistake it for depression or other psychological afflictions that are just the consequences of profound boredom. Profound boredom leads people to question their purpose in life, often eliminates hope and leads them to partake in actions that have negative impacts on society. This is the ‘evil’ side of boredom that many philosophers apply to the conclusions they draw about boredom. However, just as boredom doesn’t always lead to productiveness, it doesn’t always end in an individual or societal catastrophe.


Philosophers’ Views On Boredom

            Boredom is a highly debated topic among philosophers. Since boredom is multifaceted, there are many different perspectives of it that contradict each other. In order to discuss the paradoxical affects of boredom on modern society, it is first important to compare and contrast philosophers’ views on the subject. The two ideas discussed here, Kierkegaard’s and Huxley’s, by no means encompass every philosopher’s idea of boredom, but represent either extremes of the spectrum. There are many other ideas that fall between Kierkegaard’s and Huxley’s ideas, but these two give the main idea of the range of ideas about boredom.

            Kierkegaard’s view of boredom can be summarized in one quotation: “Boredom is the root of all evil.” Kierkegaard believes that boredom will lead to destructive behaviors, so in order to avoid these behaviors, one must be free of commitment. This includes no committed friendships or relationships—if one gets bored with the other, destructive habits, such as extramarital affairs, occur, or feelings are hurt. Kierkegaard’s method also includes avoiding taking a steady job, because taking a job will ensure that one will lose him or herself to the working machine, and will forever be doomed to live a monotonous, boredom-ridden life.

            Contrary to Kierkegaard’s view of boredom and its consequences, author Aldous Huxley believes boredom to be an indicator of freedom, of which he is an avid advocator. He states, “Your true traveller finds boredom rather agreeable than painful. It is the symbol of his liberty – his excessive freedom. He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically, but almost with pleasure.” Whereas Kierkegaard says that boredom is an indicator of commitment, Huxley states that it is an indicator of freedom, and the freedom to choose how one’s time is spent, and one should embrace boredom rather than trying to perpetually evade it.

            Even though these two ideas contradict each other, neither is necessarily wrong. Boredom’s consequences can be destructive: profound boredom, for example, can drive a person to depression and either harm his or herself, or others. It can also indicate that one is fortunate enough to not have to worry about the basic necessities of life, or that one has achieved true freedom. Boredom doesn’t have to be one or the other: it is both. The consequences of boredom rely solely on the responses of the individuals whom it afflicts.  

            For more quotes by philosophers or authors pertaining to boredom, click here:



Boredom: A Personal Experience

            Most of the time, I don’t mind being bored. I love doing nothing. Not even in the sense of not being productive and watching TV: I consider that to be doing something. I just love sitting and thinking. Even as a kid, I never saw boredom or lack of activity as a bad thing: I would simply find something interesting to do when left to my own devices. I remember reading until there were more books stacked up on the table beside me than there were on the shelves, or creating my own entertainment, making up games or stories that would continue for hours.

            The only times I remember not liking being bored was when I was forced to partake in an activity I hated. Doing nothing never bothered me: I only hated participating in activities that I had absolutely no interest in. For example, it would take me half an hour to do 30 math assignments, but all day to write three pages of analysis for our latest English assignment. The reason? I could easily focus on integrals: I couldn’t on The Sun Also Rises. Instead, I would check Facebook, or twitter; I’d leave, hang out with my friends, and come back only to stare at the blank page for another half hour before catching up on the TV shows I hadn’t seen that week. This type of boredom resulted in nothing productive: it only ended in wasting time I would never get back.

            The main point of this anecdote is that boredom isn’t always a bad thing. It’s only bad if you make it bad. Boredom itself is the same feeling no matter what: the only consequences are those that you bring upon yourself.

                                                                        —Anonymous, Journal entry, 2010


Juxtaposing the Effects of Boredom


The effects of boredom can be viewed as a yin yang. The yin yang is a juxtaposition of the contrasting ideas and the paradoxical nature of boredom. Boredom can lead to self-enlightenment or self-destruction. It doesn’t lead to only either enlightenment or destruction, though; it causes both, under different circumstances. The same goes for philosophical conclusions about boredom. No matter how strong an argument about boredom that it leads to a certain thing or a certain outcome and only that outcome, there will always be holes in the argument that leave room to argue the opposite. Neither argument is necessarily wrong; there can be two opposing truths about boredom that simultaneously exist, which is why boredom is paradoxical.

Boredom is a paradox of inspiring meaningfulness while drawing attention to meaninglessness. It is inescapable: it afflicts the young, the old, the rich, and the poor. It lends itself to the larger paradox of modernity, which is that societal and technological advancements are simultaneously constructive and destructive. Modernity and what society deems to be advancements are not themselves ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but rather how society uses them and applies them to situations. A knife itself neither possesses ‘good’ nor ‘evil’: it can be used to cut open a fruit, which is a good source of vitamins for the human body, or to take someone’s life. Such is the situation of boredom: boredom itself is not good or bad, but can be utilized to motivate a good deed or to justify a bad one. Peoples’ reactions to boredom can be deemed ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and it is these reactions that are often confused with boredom itself, which creates the false generalization of the entire concept. It is not necessarily a problem, nor does it need to be overcome. One must accept that it exists, and then decide how to let it affect his or her actions.



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