Can Boredom Be Interesting? (Or Do You Just Reach For Your Smartphone?) Written by Dr. Linda Berman.


Sickert. ‘Ennui’. Wikimedia Commons.

“When you pay attention to boredom, it gets unbelievably interesting.”

“There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.”

G.K. Chesterton

Are you bored?

Most of us feel bored sometimes. This is not the same as taking time out to unwind, de-stress or rest. It is the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing what to do with one’s time, being at a loose end, uninterested in everything, restless, frustrated and  lacking stimulation.

What are the signs of boredom?

If we study the painting above, by Walter Sickert, we will see that he visually expresses many salient points about boredom. This is a powerful depiction of Ennui.

Notice that this couple are near to each other, but make no contact; the woman faces the wall and is either staring at it or the dead and taxidermied birds in the bell jar. Encased in thick glass, they portray life in a dull, insensate way.

The man stares into the light, perhaps from a window, as the shadows fall behind him. He looks like he is daydreaming. He smokes and is most likely drinking alcohol, given his half-full glass and the decanter on the mantelpiece.

Both are seeing, but not seeing. There is little concentration or focus. Their minds are elsewhere, they are not in the moment.

It feels as though everything has stopped. The birds cannot sing, the man and woman seem lifeless and are still, apart from his slow dragging on the cigar.

Perhaps she feels like the birds in the glass case?

“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.”

Sylvia Plath

The only movement appears to be in the painting on the wall, which suggests voluptuousness and joy, as the woman appears to focus on the living, flying bird before her.

The painting within the painting hints at what life could be like, free from the stale cigar-fug of boredom. However, the image is blurred; perhaps because the liveliness it depicts is out of the reach of this unfortunate pair.


Sickert. Ennui (Detail.)

Boredom and Life.

The couple in the painting seem to have  lost interest in each other and life. Instead of talking about this, and maybe finding ways round it, each  escapes into their own stuck world.

Feeling trapped in a relationship, bored with the mundanity of the daily routine and of each other, many couples lament the loss of what might have been.

A patient I saw was in an unhappy relationship; he said his life was so boring that he wished that there would be a power-cut; anything would be welcome to create some kind of movement and excitement.


Ennui. Robert Seymour Met. Museum of Art. Wikimedia Commons.

“Pensive they sit, and roll their languid eyes.”
John Keats

Often when people are experiencing such intense boredom, they attempt to fill the emptiness within, maybe through taking drugs, overeating, vandalism (see the rather accusing graffiti below), gambling, staring at their Smartphone or drinking too much alcohol.

Such activities are attempts to fill a sense of vacancy and to avoid the challenge that boredom offers us.


Image: Alison. ‘Boredom’ Flickr.


Boredom and Time


“For Heidegger, boredom is a privileged fundamental mood because it leads us directly into the very problem complex of being and time.”
Lars Fr. H. Svendsen

Time passes differently for those who are bored. The slow drag of the clock, tedious in its interminable routine, accentuates the tiresome insufferability of each day.

Time becomes a tormentor.

For those who are stimulated by life, however, time flies by. There is never enough time for the busy, involved person.

However, for those who really have little time to live, time has a very different meaning:

“A terminal illness forces us to make every second count, whereas the forces of boredom make us count every second.”

― Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Distraction:Boredom and 21st Century Culture

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

T. S. Eliot

Neither plenitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration…..

TS Eliot. Burnt Norton.(Extract)



L’Ennui|Cimitero Monumentale|L’Orso Sul Monoccicio|Flickr

T.S.Eliot’s words are pertinent to today in ways he could not have imagined. He died in the sixties, before the advent of internet, the Smartphone, the PC.

What if we did not have all these distractions? Well, they were there in the 60’s of course, in a different way.

However, the plethora of distracting devices has massively increased and today’s society appears technologically swamped.

We talk of ‘detox’ from such technology; many are addicted. This addiction to distraction is a strong defence against feeling, against creativity, against the productive mind-wandering that will be explored in next week’s post.

Children accustomed to television and i-pads are demand-fed passive entertainment; they do not know how to deal with their boredom themselves.


They stare, wide-eyed, entranced, at the screen. This is fine for some of the time and may be enjoyable and relaxing, but, if it is overdone, children will not learn to be inventive in and responsible for their own play.

“People in the modern world are the most bored generation. They keep refreshing their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages to see if something interesting is happening. They would switch on their television sets every now and then with the hope to see some interesting content on it. If nothing works, they plan to dine out, go for a holiday or join a club to get rid of the boredom.”
Awdhesh Singh


Next week’s post will examine how boredom can be a prelude to creativity.


Image:Wikimedia Commons. Dolce far Niente by Auguste Toulmouche, 1876

“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.”
Charles Dickens, Bleak House.

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  1. True. Insomnia can be terrible. I don’t have time to get bored usually but I do every now and then suffer from monotony when I desperately want a change. I keep myself really busy to avoid thinking too much about life unless insomnia hits and I can’t stop my brain from thinking

    Liked by 1 person

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