Addressing the Elephant in the Room: What Is Boredom?

27.01.2020 |

Episode #1 of the course Understanding and dealing with boredom by Sonia Chauhan


While we’re busy clubbing, traveling, and running the next big startup, boredom is the elephant in the room.

Boredom is perhaps the most distorted human emotion, as modern culture does not allow its existence. While in the past, boredom was seen as a distasteful emotion to be put up with, it has rapidly morphed into something negative that must be actively avoided at all costs.

Because only boring people get bored, right?


In this course, I will talk about boredom from an evolutionary perspective and discuss why people are essentially meant to be bored every now and then.

This course covers boredom from various angles: psychological, social, and philosophical. It also deliberates solutions and helpful tactics that you can easily deploy to deal with boredom and most importantly, to understand it.



Boredom is what you experience when your mind does not feel connected to or interested in your present environment. There are many definitions of boredom that are widely discussed on the internet.

After going through most of them, I have coined my own definition of boredom: a state of mind when nothing in front of you captures your interest; a state when you are listlessly looking for something to hold your attention and keep failing at it.


The Ingredients of Boredom

Psychology says that there are certain criteria being met when you feel bored.

The first one is that you are in a psychologically aroused state of mind but can’t find anything engaging.

Secondly, you are aware of the fact that your mind is unable to concentrate on a single/particular task.

Lastly, you blame this state of mind on your environment.

This reminds me of my own experience with classic boredom. For years, I kept hearing raging reviews of The Atonement. So, I decided to give it a go. I got the book in 2015, and since then, I have tried to read it dozens of times, but I just can’t do it. A couple of months ago, though, I really set my mind to it—and I read a couple of chapters. Right after, I promptly shut the book (sighing all the while) and slipped it into the back of my bookshelf.

So, what happened between the novel and my brain?

Number One. I was unable to engage with the book. I kept flipping pages, I sighed; my mind drifted; I repeatedly closed and reopened it. I negotiated with myself, offering incentives if I could finish a chapter.

Number Two. Every time I picked up the book, a mental lament started inside: “Oh god, I can’t read this anymore. I’d rather be watching Netflix.” I would become absent-minded and kept forgetting the plot.

Number Three. I blamed the book. If you ask me about The Atonement, I’ll confidently say, “Oh, it’s such a boring book.”

Ergo, I experienced pure boredom.


The Many Faces of Boredom

Boredom has many shapes and sizes.

Boredom is not just lack of interest in a particular activity. It also occurs when your mind refuses to indulge in an activity—there might be multiple options right in front of you, but you simply don’t feel up to any.

Have you ever heard people complain about how they’re bored of supposedly fun activities carrying a high engagement level, like clubbing or shopping? It’s possible to be bored of meaningless activities that don’t enrich your soul.

Boredom can hit you during certain times of the year or even during a regular day—like summer holidays or afternoons on a workday (come on, I can’t be the only one). Most people even experience intense boredom during a particularly stressful time in their lives, such as new mothers or those caring for a bedridden relative.


Boredom Is Not Procrastination or Laziness

Procrastination and boredom can be both experienced when you lack clarity on how to go about a particular activity or act during a certain amount of free time. The difference is that procrastination, however, is due to boredom—among other things, of course.

Laziness, on the other hand, is a direct consequence of boredom. It’s no wonder that many of us feel sleepy or lethargic when bored. (When we say, “Oh, that movie was so boring, I drifted right off.”)

Boredom is actually the root of many other behaviors that rust your efficiency. Remember, persisting feelings of boredom over time can compromise general happiness and must be taken seriously.


Key Notes

• Don’t brush it under the carpet, and don’t pretend that you’re never bored. Instead, admit it to yourself and figure out your relationship with boredom.

• If you think boredom is a serious issue in your life, you should take the Boredom Proneness Test. It was invented by psychologists at the University of Oregon in 1986. It has been widely accepted and relied upon since then. Here’s a simpler version of the test.

Tomorrow, I will discuss the various reasons we avoid talking about boredom and the problem with that approach.


Recommended book

Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana


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