Why Is Everything So Boring?

To recap from a prior post, “alexithymia” nearly translates to no words for emotions. Alexithymia could produce a subclinical difficulty around emotional recognition and expression.

When I worked in a youth clinic, the one thing that I heard most frequently from the kids—despite affective appearance (anger, sadness, worry) was that they were ‘bored.’ School was boring. Home was boring (and this was pre-pandemic). Video games were often boring. They really couldn’t get away from it. I chalked this up to the thing that most of these kids have in common; Trauma. They spent their young, young life in fight/flight/freeze mode, and when things were relatively “safe,” it threw off their systems, made it difficult to concentrate, contributed to depression, anxiety, impulse-control issues, and contributed to this general boredom.

I don’t know that I’ve never been bored, but it’s not something I experience often. I don’t know if it’s part of only childhood— that I can entertain myself enough in my own mind (for better or worse)— that it’s just not something I notice is part of my experience. It’s not that I have a wonderful fantasy world— boredom just doesn’t pop up. However, I do do (acknowledged) things like look at my phone during commercials while I stream TV shows. I guess that’s pushing away the idea of having to sit and wait— and there’s potential for having to notice feeling bored which is uncomfortable. What about ‘bored’ is uncomfortable?

Boredom is defined by a restlessness due to disinterest. Restlessness is a telltale sign of discomfort. When we’re restless, we feel like we need to move. More dramatically, I would venture to say that we feel like we shouldn’t stop moving. Our minds are used to moving quickly from one thing to another— at work, on our phones, in video games, listing daily chores. Many of us live in a world that values productivity. This isn’t so strange. It seems that at many points during our human history, if we weren’t productive, we weren’t able to keep ourselves alive. To some extent, we have to be productive to stay alive now. We go to the grocery store instead of hunting and gathering. We turn on the heat instead of making fires. If we’re lucky, we live in stable dwellings instead of having to move from place to place due to predators or weather. Our ‘lil’ human brains still haven’t figured out how to handle the comforts we’ve created for ourselves.

These comforts have come at a cost. They feed on our need to feel productive. They make us see more/hear more/do more/eat more/buy more. We have manufactured the feeling of needing something or needing to do something in order to survive and we want to feel that all time. If not, we’re bored. Our ancestors had to do a lot to survive, but they would be shocked at how fast we’ve become. And for what purpose? To reap the same productivity quota as they did?

I would say that those traumatized kids I worked with were disinterested in school because keeping themselves safe during traumatic experiences is the most productive thing their bodies could do. That being said, I imagine boredom is uncomfortable for a multitude of reasons that are specific for the individual. A piece of this multitude is that when sitting with something that is between pleasurable and painful, but mostly disinteresting, other emotions may arise. These are emotions that we have pushed away for a reason. The discomfort of sitting with these feelings may create a restlessness because strong emotions make us feel like we need to do something (combat the boredom). Strong emotions (that are perceived as negative) make us think we’re in danger. Usually (and hopefully), we’re not in actual danger. We can just sit. The future we live in has afforded us that. And when we provide ourselves the space to slow down and develop the emotional vocabulary (be it verbal or physical), we may be better able to utilize these future-tools we’ve been given without as many emotional consequences.

A coda: I think boredom is elusive for me because I am generally interested in most things. I won’t pretend like I’m not infected by the productivity plague, because it is certainly inside of me and may even fuel my lack of disinterest. A part of mindfulness is engaging with your thoughts and feelings with judgement-free curiosity. This is a task that we can undertake in both our inner and outer world. If you would like to chat further about boredom, curiosity, our culture, and especially your feelings, contact me.

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