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Boredom

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Children commonly exhibit the emotion of boredom.

Boredom, or ennui (pronounced "on-we," this French word comes from Old French enui, root of the English word 'annoy') is a reactive state to wearingly dull, repetitive, or tedious stimuli: suffering from a lack of interesting things to see, hear, etc., or do (physically or intellectually), while not in the mood of "doing nothing". Those afflicted by temporary boredom may regard the affliction as a waste of time, but usually characterise boredom worse than just that. Alternatively one may have the feeling that having too much spare time causes boredom. Indeed, time often appears to move more slowly to someone suffering from boredom. This results from the way in which the human mind measures the passage of time, by the frequency of notable events, the absence of which may cause the feeling of boredom. Boredom can also occur as a symptom of clinical depression.

Boredom may also lead to impulsive (and sometimes excessive) actions, that serve no purpose and may damage one's self-interest. For example, studies in behavioral finance have shown that stock traders can enter into "overtrading" (buying or selling even without any objective reason to do so) simply because they feel bored when they have nothing worth doing. Using recreational drugs and engaging in criminal activity provides other examples of the possible perils of boredom.

Contents

History of the concept of boredom

The word boredom first appears in the English language in the Charles Dickens novel Bleak House, published in 1852, where Dickens writes of Lady Dedlock's "chronic malady of boredom". Bore, bored, and boring, in the sense used here, all appear somewhat earlier:

  • bore first appears as a generic noun, meaning the malady or experience of boredom, in a letter of the Earl of March in 1766 (the same year also in a letter of G.J. Williams meaning one who suffers from boredom, specifically referring to the individual as "a French bore", indicating the derivation from ennui; the modern sense of a thing which bores appears twelve years later)
  • bored as a verb-derived adjective appears in a letter of the Earl of Carlisle in 1768 — again in reference to the French: the Earl speaks of his English friends "who are to be bored by these Frenchmen"
  • "boring" dates to at least Theodore Hook's Fitzherbert of 1840, where Hook writes of Emily's endurance of "Miss Mathews's boring vanities".

Lars Fredrik Svendsen in his book A Philosophy of Boredom (ISBN 1861892179) suggests that boredom as a concept emerged (along with the concept "interesting") in the 1760s. Note too that the earliest noted use of the word ennui in the English language (in 1667) occurs in John Evelyn's Memoirs in the phrase: "We have hardly any words that do ... fully express the French ... ennui ...".

Literature

Philosophers find boredom a perennially amusing topic. Those who have written about it include Søren Kierkegaard in The Sickness Unto Death, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death.

"Against boredom, the gods themselves struggle in vain." — Nietzsche in a parody of a quote from Schiller.
"Boredom is the root of all evil — the despairing refusal to be one's self." — Kierkegaard

(Note: Kierkegaard theorised that boredom also populated the earth... God was bored and created Adam, God and Adam were bored and along came Eve, etc.)

"[Time] ceases to persecute only he who he transferred over to boredom." — Schopenhauer

The arts

The punk singer Iggy Pop had a minor hit with his song 'I'm Bored' during which he would strip his clothes off while delivering a monotonous rendition of the lyric: "I'm bored, I'm the chairman of the bored".

Douglas Adams depicted a robot named Marvin whose boredom appeared to be the defining trait of his personality, and indeed, existence, in his series of novels that began with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

External links

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