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Faculty & Research


In Praise of Boredom: A king’s Tale

Working Paper
This article explores the enigmatic nature of boredom, starting with a fairytale about a bored king. What this tale illustrates is that a life without challenge can easily become a fertile place for boredom. Subsequent to the fairy tale, boredom is discussed from a literary and philosophical perspective. It is suggested that boredom is often included with such phenomena as alienation, anomie, disenchantment and depression, conditions of the mind that indicate that we are all human, pointing out that boredom is an inevitable part of human nature. It is also noted, however, that boredom makes for this uncomfortable, conflicting feeling of wanting to do something, but also not wanting to do anything—creating a tense space between action and inaction. The article goes on to explore the evolutionary and psychodynamic origins of boredom. It points out that boredom has been a major cause of various kinds of addictive behaviors. In addition, with respect to the need for stimuli, a difference is made between philobates and ocnophils. Some people seem to have a greater need for external stimulation and excitement than others. Also, in the context of boredom, the repetitiveness of work is explored, noting that what is repeated too often—when there is too much routine—will create a sense of tedium. Boredom is also discussed in the context of emotional management. There it is pointed out that some people suffer from alexithymia, making them colorblind vis-à-vis emotions. Furthermore, episodic and chronic boredom are also addressed. A major part of the article, however, is in praise of boredom. It is pointed out that boredom should be seen as a warning sign, a clarion call for action. It tells bored people that they need to do something about the situation they find themselves in as it is no longer satisfying. In this context, various “cures” for boredom are suggested. As with any psychological problem, understanding what’s happening is the first step in overcoming it. It is noted that boredom will always be caused by a disequilibrium between people’s internal and external worlds. However, if people try to understand the roots of their boredom, they may find out what they need to do to overcome it. In the context of seeking such a “cure”, a major factor will be relationship management. It is pointed out that Homo sapiens is a social creature, looking for a sense of belonging. Thus, shifting the focus away from more self-centered activities towards those that strengthen one’s sense of community could provide an avenue away from boredom. In addition, if boredom becomes chronic, it is suggested to look for helping professionals who can assist these people in regaining their sense of purpose and passion in their lives. Finally, the article pays some attention to the explosion of boredom in contemporary society given all the external stimuli available.

Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development and Organizational Change