Thursday, April 02, 2015


Courtesy: Clipart
How has the day been so far?

Are you stuck in a boring meeting, wishing something would happen to shake up things? Like a fire perhaps. Or a meteor-hit. Or at least someone throwing up.

Are you in your little cubicle trying to look busy; playing Mario or Solitaire? There is work  - but you can’t get yourself to do it – it is so terribly boring. You restlessly keep refreshing your Outlook – to see if any interesting emails have come – but it’s all landing in the spam folder – someone asking you to look into their webcam, or someone peddling those pills.

Are you sitting at home – kids at school, spouse off to work, the domestic help has finished her chores and the hours stretch in front of you. The house is quiet, and you can do a million ‘productive’ things – you can finish at least two chapters in your manuscript, or the painting you were working on, or the dress you were designing, or the yoga...but you are listless, restless. You get yourself a bowl of chips or chevda or whatever is your fix. You park a large mug of caffeine boost on the table. You open your laptop and surrender to the internet. You read news portals...not for the news as such...but for the comments on news articles. You open Facebook and scroll through your newsfeed. You click on the various videos of babies playing with dogs and sneezing pandas. You add your bit to the collective outrage over something or the other.

Or your day is packed – running from one place to another, jumping from one task to another, meeting after meeting, call after call. Yet, you feel empty, unaccomplished.

Before you know it, the day is done. You feel depressed by night. Crappy. Snappy. Irritable. Your life is in a rut, you rage. It’s the spouse’s fault. It’s the kids. It’s the education system. It’s the lousy culture of the country. It’s the country. Maybe it’s just hormones. Maybe you are depressed. You can’t sleep. You open the internet on your tablet and start surfing. Well, there’s that bitch having a spa-holiday again. And look that numpty back from college – all happy and celebrating his fifteenth wedding anniversary. Everyone seems to be leading a perfect life. You feel hostile, black. You finally drift off to sleep at three in the morning. Before you know it, the day has started again.

If it is of any comfort, you are not alone. No, it’s not the onset of depression or hormonal imbalance or...well...madness. It’s a worldwide affliction of epic proportions; it’s called boredom.  If boredom came with physical symptoms, I bet it would be declared an epidemic.
In a paper titled ‘On Boredom’ published way back in 1953 in the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Dr Ralph Greenson outlines boredom - "A state of dissatisfaction with and a disinclination to action; a state of longing and an inability to designate what is longed for, a sense of emptiness; a passive expectant attitude with the hope that the external world will supply the satisfaction; a distorted sense of time in which time seems to stand still."  That’s about the most perfect description of the condition.

I think boredom in small doses is good – you can’t always remain in a super-charged mental state, with your brain whirring and buzzing. But sustained boredom; in other words, a long period of feeling disengaged and uninspired is a precursor for depression. We ought to take constant boredom more seriously – without our knowledge, it does affect various physiological and psychological states. For example, our cognition is affected – from attention span to response time. Extended periods of being disinterested in general could lead change in neurotransmitter levels – example a suppressed level of serotonin.

The most important line in Dr Greenson’s description is our expectation that somehow the world will firstly recognize we are bored (as if anyone cares!) and then, provide us the required gratification. What is that gratification we need – we don’t know. But we do reach out to some comforts – buying things we don’t need, and more often than not, indulging in boredom eating. But the most fatal effect of prolonged boredom is the negativity it generates. You know, idle mind...devil’s workshop. Next time you are ‘bored’ – try this experiment. Disengage and observe your thoughts. Do you think about happy moments? I can bet you end up reliving an unpleasant situation. You remember the hurt it caused, you remember the person who hurt you. You imagine a future event where you are in confrontation with this person. You imagine a complete hurtful dialogue you will have. Before long, you have generated enough stress and anxiety for yourself; and what’s more, you start festering in it.

Being stuck in this kind of rut does not mean you are lazy – it’s a result of the way things are structured around us right now. Our education, corporate structures, lifestyle – everything is geared to towards a mechanical routine. Everything is outcome based. Everyone is measuring productivity. There is constant breathlessness, the foot is always on the pedal. There is no time for an in-depth experience. There is no time for in-depth knowledge acquisition. There is no time for an in-depth conversation. Everything shall be done ‘after retirement’...till then, keep running. 

I don’t have the 10 steps to ward off such fatal boredom. I mean many of us can't dash off to Italy and Thailand eating, praying and loving along the way. But from my experience, you can make life a tad richer by doing one of these –

1)    Create something – anything – let it be shaped by your hands and heart. It could be just writing something to drawing a rangoli or baking a cake.
2)    Acquire knowledge with child-like enthusiasm - put your heart in it. If you want to learn about black holes in space – go all the way – from the theory to the equations. You may not have understood anything in school – but now, as an adult with no exams to judge you, you’ll be surprised the amount of things you can grasp. The only rule – don’t learn anything that will be ‘useful’ in your career.
3)    Impart knowledge – come out with fun ways of teaching someone something. It could be computers for senior citizens. Or Math for non-math folks.
4)    Challenge yourself – if there’s something you've never tried – because of lack of opportunity...or simply because you were conditioned that way (for e.g. you can’t do something because of your gender) – do it. At least make plans for a start
5)    Read, read, read. The more you read, the more you tend to introspect – the more interesting you become as a person.

Most importantly, for all these things you do – don’t expect accolades. Don’t do it for it for your pleasure and your pleasure only!

© Sumana Khan - 2015


  1. As you pointed out, small doses of boredom are indeed very important! I think it helps foster our imagination!
    Your tips are spot-on! I find creating something or just going out for a walk in the fresh air are very effective in dispelling negative thoughts!

  2. Your post remind me of the "ayyo bore-u" times esp during summer holidays. Once after all the comics have been consumed, doodling done, gallivanting with cousins done.. yes it's "ayyo bore-u" time :)

  3. Very inspiring post..I'd love to try a few things myself..especially the reading part, too many books have piled up on my shelf