That human life must be some kind of mistake is sufficiently proved by the simple observation that man is a compound of needs which are hard to satisfy; that their satisfaction achieves nothing but a painless condition in which he is only given over to boredom; and that boredom is a direct proof that existence is in itself valueless, for boredom is nothing other than the sensation of the emptiness of existence. For if life, in the desire for which our essence and existence consists, possessed in itself a positive value and real content, then would be no such thing as boredom: mere existence would fulfill and satisfy us.
–Arthur Schopenhauer, “The Vanity of Existence”
Boredom is a curious emotional state. It is neither the absence or existence of a pleasure or pain, but rather it is the natural position of human perception. Much like the basic tenet of physics that states an object remains at rest unless acted upon, boredom is the state of emotion when standing still. From it arises a general sense of irritability, a lack of concentration, and a dull, persistent feeling of unrest. The immediate reaction usually entails self destructive behaviour. Often this manifests itself in provoking others with no reason, over indulging in food and vice, and an unproductive waste of time and effort. As the ancient truism goes, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”.
The negative consequences of this emotion leave one wondering the neurological purpose for such an emotion. Purpose for humans is as important as other biological imperatives such as eating and drinking. Moments squandered through inaction are moments that could be spent preparing for survival. One must constantly be on guard to escape the clutches of ennui. If it is not fought off with careful and consistent preparation, it will catch up with you.
Like any other emotion, boredom has various states of intensity. The greater levels of boredom seem to arise in those who have a higher capacity for arousal. When one is satisfied easily with their environment, lack of stimuli seems to engender a sense of lesser boredom that is closer to relaxation than unrest. Like a high-energy system that is self contained with no outlet, those who are easily excited tend to react violently with nothing to devote their interest to.
The capacity for boredom is directly related to the scope and size of one’s appetite for excitement. As such, it functions just like hunger. When there is a lack of nourishment, those with a large stomach grown from overindulgence will feel the pangs of starvation more dramatic and more rapidly than those with more modest appetites.
Boredom also can set in through another way. If one is stressed by an unsolvable or difficult task, frustration can manifest itself as boredom. There may be is plenty in one’s surroundings to generate interest, but it can seem unimportant when compared with the subject causing him stress. The more he tries to focus on his task, the more it seems pointless. This leads him to lash out by ignoring the problem. In this sense, boredom is similar to depression in that it creeps and perverts areas that one would not assume is within its domain. This sense of powerlessness quickly becomes a no-win situation, where diversion into daydreams and secondary concerns only increases the feelings of desperation. It avoids the true source of the discomfort.
The only true solution for any cause of boredom is to attack the cause of it. One must present himself with challenges worthy of his attention. He must also remove himself from any situation that prevents him from doing so. Boredom is a warning. It cannot be ignored. A man that tries to endure boredom slowly cuts himself off from the vital process of survival. He will wither down to whatever level of decrepitude the situation allows him to be. If every environment was intrinsically satisfying, man would only need the bare necessities from cradle to grave. Boredom exists as the bitter taste left from the absence of growth.