COVID 19 and Boredom: Journeying Towards Meaning and Value
You might not think of boredom as an emotion, but it is. In fact, it’s one of the most widely experienced “Emotions of the Pandemic”
Boredom is one definite aspect of what we’re experiencing in the pandemic. Certainly, this lockdown period is a time of stress, uncertainty and fear, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t often find ourselves succumbing to boredom. We might feel that we shouldn’t be bored at this demanding and unusual time, that life somehow demands more of us—but that doesn’t necessarily stop it from happening.
We might well feel, as Margaret Talbot writing in the New Yorker puts it, that
The… plot thickens by the hour. We need to be paying attention. But boredom, like many an inconvenient human sensation, can steal over a person at unseemly moments. And, in some ways, the psychic limbo of the pandemic has been a breeding ground for it—or at least for a restless, buzzing frustration that can feel a lot like it.Talbot, Margaret, “What Does Boredom Do to Us—and for Us?”
Boom Times for Boredom?
This pandemic period has seen many people stuck for prolonged periods in their homes, either working from home, or, in a good many cases, unable to work. Social activities have been cut back dramatically, as has attending restaurants, theatres, sporting events, gyms, libraries and many of the other activities that form the social, cultural and recreational backbone of our society. The result has been that many people have experienced considerable amounts of boredom, which U. Illinois-Springfield Prof. Shahram Heshmat describes as
an unpleasant emotional state in which the individual feels a pervasive lack of interest in and difficulty concentrating on the current activity…. Boredom is such a motivating force that people do all kinds of things to ease the pain.
This description aptly describes a state that many people will clearly recognize as occurring frequently during the lockdown period.
There are a few typical “stepping stones” to boredom. If you’re experiencing these things, you’re very likely on your way to being bored:
- Monotony occurs when tasks are too predictable and repetitive;
- Lack of “Flow” happens when we can’t immerse ourselves in what we’re doing;
- Need for Novelty comes about when there’s an absence of external stimulation;
- Unengaged Attention strikes us when we just can’t concentrate on something;
- Emotional Unconsciousness hits us when we’re unaware of our emotional states, and don’t really know what will make us happy;
- Undeveloped Inner Resources may keep us always looking outwards, searching for stimulation and novelty; and,
- Feeling Trapped occurs when we feel stuck or constrained—as many people do during the lockdown.
Many people have been aware of experiencing these things during the COVID 19 lockdown period.
COVID 19 and Boredom: Taking Hold
How do we deal with the boredom we may be experiencing now? One of the important challenges with respect to COVID 19 and boredom is admitting to ourselves that we’re in fact bored. We may find that we resist acknowledging our boredom. Why is that?
University of Calgary Classics Professor Peter Toohey, in his 2011 book Boredom: A Lively History describes the concept of acedia, an ancient Christian term which was applied to the boredom that hermits and monks experienced as a temptation to abandon their life of prayer and contemplation. As Margaret Talbot tells us, “Though boredom no longer strikes most people as a sin, as acedia was for medieval monks, a dusting of shame still clings to it, especially when it can’t be blamed on a job endured to pay the bills.”
Often we do associate a sense of shame or inadequacy with the idea of being bored, as if being bored was a personal or moral failure. But we need to approach our boredom from a place of self-compassion. What if our boredom is simply an emotional state, that puts us in contact with a deep need in our lives for things that are real, meaningful and full of vitality?
What’s Meaningful Now?
In our boredom, we can discern an emotional state that forces us to ask some deep questions about our lives. We can seek to avoid those inquiries by seeking for refuge in more and more entertainment and/or thrill-seeking behaviour, or through the experiences that are at the root of much addictive behaviour (alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.). However, those types of experience are likely to leave us feeling that we are still lacking what we ultimately need.
The challenge in our experience of COVID 19 and boredom is to find the things in our lives that involve us and give us the sense that we are having real and substantial experience. This entails finding the experiences that connect us with soul. The search for what is ultimately meaningful in this way has particular importance for the midlife transition, but also comes into the foreground at times of major life transition, as we’re experiencing with pandemic and lockdown.
Depth case studies can often be of tremendous help in identifying what is truly meaningful, by bringing us into intimate contact with the rich resources we have in our inner life and in the as-yet undiscovered self.. The most important answers to the questions posed by our experiences of boredom are grounded in our journey to wholeness, and in connecting with out authentic selves.