Boredom. The bane of modern existence. It is the trigger for relapse. It can also be extreme enough that it is a sign of depression. With few exceptions, the hyper-technological, air-conditioned, screenbound world we live in bores us to tears. All basic needs are met. No longer is the imperative survival and procreation, by self-fulfillment. And what is there for self-fulfillment? Many thousands of things: art, music, sports, video games, writing. But I imagine that millions of people, maybe the majority given the voracious appetite for self-help programs, fall prey to the dreaded black void. Their favorite TV shows stop being entertaining. Video games start getting repetitive. All music starts sounding dull. That hedonic treadmill in action. What is there left to do but to stare at the paint on our walls?
I would add one other component to boredom, especially for the anxious among us: the fear of doing anything. An anxious person spends so much time with their fearful thoughts that those thoughts compound among each other and paralyze that person. It’s hard to improve myself! It’s hard to get out there! I’m not immune. As I was driving home, the thought that I would have nothing to say kept appearing in the back of my mind. How we drive ourselves crazy! There are so many things that require us to be passive. So much that it is numbing. And when we are passive, invariably the entertainment ends and we are left with our own thoughts.
Blaise Pascal said that “all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.” There is a reason that solitary confinement is one of the worst punishments out there. In experiments where people voluntarily go into solitary confinement, they start hallucinating within hours. The risk for self-harm also increase. What can be more scary than our own minds?
Why does this happen, even though we have thousands of things to occupy our minds? The Stoics would say that boredom is a failure of priorities. What are we doing to help people? What are we doing to help ourselves? Why are you doing what you are doing? Get up and do something! Time waits for no person. “But Seneca,” I whine, “what if what I do seems pointless? What if nothing gives me pleasure?” Then find something that helps society and give all of your effort to it. Improve yourself and live virtuously.
So what to do about it? One of the most common questions people have after quitting an addiction is how to fill the void left behind. That can only be resolved on a case-by-case basis. Everyone has something different that they can truly engage in. I will say one universal thing: it is better to be a producer than a consumer. Sure, it’s harder, but the results are much greater. It doesn’t even have to be complicated. Just write whatever thoughts come into your mind in a journal. Start a blog, you’re not publishing a thesis (although you could!). Write some music. Draw some pictures. Direct your energy toward creating. You cannot fight boredom by just sitting there, you must replace it.
Summary: Boredom is the scourge of the modern world. Fight it by creating.