January 11, 2014

Big News! The Discovery of a New Type of Boredom!

My daughter often says, “Mommy, I’m so bored!”

And I say, “Good. You’re brain will have a chance to rest.”

But, according to Thomas Goetz of the University of Konstanz and the Thurgau University of Teacher Education, that statement is not necessarily true. He is one of the experts who identified that boredom is not an all-inclusive word, and it certainly is not always restful. It may be more nuanced than we realize. He says there are actually five different types of boredom—apathetic boredom was just discovered this year!

The five types are as follows:

1. Apathetic. (Brand-spanking new!)

A person has low arousal and a lack of positive or negative feelings—in other words, a feeling of helplessness or depression.

A recent paper appearing in Motivation and Emotionoutlines this type of boredom which was discovered this year. Goetz and his colleagues found that university and high school students experienced a boredom that seems a lot like helplessness (and could contribute to depression): At least 36 percent of the high school students in the survey reported it. People who have this kind of ennui show little arousal and a lot of aversion.

2. Indifferent.

A person who comes off as disconnected from his environment. They may appear relaxed, but a more accurate word would be withdrawn.

3. Calibrating.

A person’s emotional state is characterized by wandering thoughts, not knowing what to do, and a “general openness” to activities unrelated to the present situation. They want do something different from what they’re currently doing, but they’re not exactly sure what or how they might go about it.

4. Reactant.

A person in this state has a strong motivation to escape his or her boring situation and may have significant restlessness and aggression. They may also blame others for their situations and waste their time thinking of situations they’d rather be in that seem more valuable than their current circumstances.

5. Searching.

A feeling reflecting a sense of unpleasant discomfort and an active search for ways out of the boredom mindset.  


Any of these sound familiar?

What’s more, Goetz thinks we are privy to only one of those five types during our lifetime.

“We speculate that experiencing specific boredom types might, to some degree, be due to personality-specific dispositions.”

I find it so interesting that the last three of the five types of boredom are characterized by wanting to get away from the situation we are in. Whether it be waiting for a better option (calibrating), actively looking for ways out (searching), or aggressively wanting to escape and blame others for their current situation (reactant), the misery caused by wanting to flee one’s present circumstances is obvious.

Here’s another way to look at it: from the Buddhist perspective, boredom is totally necessary.

According to Chogyam Trumpa Rinpoche:

“Boredom is part of the discipline of meditation practice. This type of boredom is cool boredom, refreshing boredom. Boredom is necessary and you have to work with it. It is constantly very sane and solid, and very boring at the same time. But it’s refreshing boredom. The discipline then becomes part of one’s daily expression of life. Such boredom seems to be absolutely necessary. Cool boredom.”

So, the fact that there are five types of boredom is interesting, I suppose. But, perhaps more intriguing of a topic would be how one relates to their boredom.

I am interested in the million-and-seven opinions I have about my own boredom, giving it more attention and focus as bad-thing-to-be -avoided, than simply as a part of life.

What if it was not a problem?

What if it was valuable?

Here, Genevieve Bell, offers a fascinating take on the Value of Boredom.

“Being bored is actually a fundamental state of being a human being. In fact we should spend less of our time forestalling boredom and trying to take it away and more of our time actively waking it up.”

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: elephant archives


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