Should Boredom be Abhorred or Embraced?

Aizaz Baqir
7 min readJul 28, 2022


Type word “boredom” on google and you will find following results:

  • Boredom is killing me
  • Boredom is mother of inventions
  • Boredom is a crime
  • Boredom is the birthplace of genius
  • Boredom is a sign of intelligence
  • Boredom is painful
  • Boredom is a good thing
  • Boredom is a sign of weak mind
  • Boredom is a choice
  • Boredom is a gift etc.

So what really is a boredom? The answer is that definition or concept of boredom changes with the change in perspective.

Conventionally defined, boredom is an emotional and occasionally psychological state experienced when an individual is left without (or loses interest in) anything in particular to do and feels a sort of dullness and monotony. Moreover, some scholars or psychologists are of the view that sense of boredom or simple tedium might also be the result of “being shut up too long.” Regardless of various attempts to explain the concept, it is not just a phenomenon of modern times. However, there is a debate among scholars, including philosophers, about how far back in history boredom goes. Several philosophers claim that boredom has always plagued human beings, while others hold that it is peculiarly a malady of the modern world.

In an article for Smithisonian magazine titled “The History of Boredom,” Linda Rodriguez McRobbie writes that ““Boredom” first became a word in 1852, with the publication of Charles Dickens’ convoluted (and sometimes boring) serial, Bleak House; as an emotional state, it obviously dates back a lot further. Roman philosopher Seneca talks about boredom as a kind of nausea, while Greek historian Plutarch notes that Pyrrhus (he of the “Pyrrhic victory”) became desperately bored in his retirement.”

To settle the debate, some scholars suggest that “while the concept of boredom is relatively new — at least in name — the experience of boredom extends far deeper into human history.

However, most scholars agree that during the fifteen hundred years of Western culture the notion of boredom has been a vital one. That is why it is also called “English Disease.” According to some studies, by the twelfth century an alternative to “acedia” had already come into use in France: “ennui”. Taken from the Latin “enodiare”, it refers to a hatred for one’s own life (Martin et al. 2006). The use of the French word “ennui” filtered into English at the end of the seventeenth century, gradually giving rise to what would later become known as the “English disease” (Toohey 1988; Antón 2012).

The truth is that in many ways, boredom seems to be a modern luxury as some researchers have found. According to them, the word “boring” as it’s used now didn’t even enter common parlance until the industrial revolution gave us time to spare. “Early on in human history, when our ancestors had to spend most of their days securing food and shelter, boredom wasn’t an option,” he says. After the invention of machines that replaced humans, there emerged two fundamental classes of people:

i) Tired workers (who worked hard in factories under horrible working conditions)

ii) Bored People (the new emerging wealthy class with a abundance of luxury products and time to enjoy life).

Some scholars argue that new, extensive free time would lead to new forms of time pressure and stress as one can’t infinitely enjoy life and, instead ends up chasing illusion in the name of luxury and enjoyment. It is like drinking “Coke” or “Pepsi” and the more you drink, the more thirsty you feel. In short, if you keep (or always striving to) enjoying your life without any lows, sufferings or pressures, life will get monotonous and the things which you enjoy will appear boring.

Moreover, you are not bound to be always doing something. You have need to take a pause for sometimes for your own benefit as the following quote states:

Moreover, nothing can work 24 hours a day. Even machines need to be stopped for repairs and maintenance.

And if it was a feeling of listlessness or melancholy in ancient times, in this age of internet and social media, it can be explained as one’s feelings after losing an internet connection. Whatever, the bored person mostly behaves like a “Damsel in Distress” who needs to be rescued or saved from this horrible feeling of emptiness as well as resultant sense of frustration.

Hence, in 21st century’s nearly always-online world suffused with mobile technology, we’re often warned that our impulse to distract ourselves at every moment — rather than simply sitting with boredom or idleness— is dangerous.

Some studies also reveal that the concept of boredom became more prominent or popular after the beginning of industrial revolution in 18th century with some scholars suggesting that there is a closer link between “boredom” and European industrial modernity. Thus according to them, boredom as we experience it today — as a sort of recognition of the absurdity of existence — was not experienced with much frequency or across a large spectrum of people until the point that leisure and wealth began to grow (Conrad 1997, Musharbash 2007). Similarly, strictly-speaking it did not even appear as a concept until the eighteenth century as an expression of metaphysical despair and socio-political impotence (Antón2012).

However, in spite of all the negative connotations attached to this notoriously popular term, some psychologists suggest that boredom is a great feeling and one should cultivate this state of mind (or disease of the mind) and use it as a weapon to propels us to action or to do something extra ordinary to get rid of this unwanted feeling.

Here is a quote from Slavoj Zizek:

As neuroscientist Alicia Walf, a researcher in the Department of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, points out, it’s critical for brain health to let yourself be bored from time to time. Being bored, she says, improves social connections. Social neuroscientists have found that the brain has a default network mode that is on when we’re disengaged from doing. Boredom can actually foster creative ideas, refilling your dwindling reservoir, replenishing your work mojo and providing an incubation period for embryonic work ideas to hatch. In those moments that might seem boring, empty and needless, strategies and solutions that have been there all along in some embryonic form are given space and come to life. And your brain gets a much needed rest when we’re not working it too hard. Famous writers have said their most creative ideas come to them when they’re moving furniture, taking a shower or pulling weeds. These eureka moments are called insight.

We’ve all heard the story of a young Isaac Newton sitting beneath an apple tree contemplating the mysterious universe. Suddenly — boink! -an apple hits him on the head. “Aha!” he shouts, or perhaps, “Eureka!” In a flash he understands that the very same force that brought the apple crashing toward the ground also keeps the moon falling toward the Earth and the Earth falling toward the sun: gravity.

According to details, having been admitted to the University of Cambridge in 1661, Newton at first failed to shine as a student. In 1665 the school temporarily closed because of a bubonic plague epidemic and Newton returned home to Lincolnshire for two years. It was then that the apple-falling brainstorm occurred, and he described his years on hiatus as “the prime of my age for invention.”

However, what is worth noting is that “during two years period of self isolation at his family farm, Woolsthorpe Manor, after the Great Plague broke out, the 23 year old Newton, instead of complaining about boredom and missing his university days, pondered over the gravitational pull of an apple falling to earth and thus created history.” He could have missed that moment of revelation in this age of facebook and twitter:

Hence it can concluded that being busy is not necessarily being productive or creative and sitting idle is not necessarily being unproductive.

According to some experts, being busy is about working longer and harder, while being productive is about efficiency and output. If it feels like every day the work just keeps piling up and you are rushing to get everything done, yet accomplish nothing, then your day has been busy, but not productive.

Thus we should not abhor sitting idle when we have to do nothing, but learn to appreciate the idle moments and embrace them as an opportunity to take some respite and also to reflect upon the mysteries of this infinite universe like Newton. Moreover, when you are not doing anything or have nothing to do it also means that you are being charged like a laptop or mobile phone. In short, our idle moments not only work as a charger to make us active again but can also boost our imagination to discover some new ideas.

It is also a fact that we can’t remain always busy nor always idle. We have to maintain a balance:

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Aizaz Baqir

I am a freelance writer and translator based in Multan, Pakistan having interests in reading, writing, travelling and social services.