Boredom Is Far More Complicated Than You Think

“Ooh, me life flashed before me eyes! It was really boring.” —Babs, Chicken Run (2000)

In A Nutshell

Think boredom is simple? There are actually five different types of boredom, each characterized by different symptoms and settings. We’ve known about indifferent boredom (boredom that’s relaxing), calibrating boredom (boredom with a wandering mind), searching boredom (the boredom that prompts you to do something out of the ordinary), and reactant boredom (boredom that occurs when you can’t get away from the boring situation) for some time. There’s also a new, recently categorized type of boredom: Apathetic boredom is the a simple lack of motivation to do anything else.

The Whole Bushel

We’ve all been bored, sometimes on a daily basis. Whether we’re sitting in a meeting at work, unable to find anything on television, or sitting home on a Friday night with all our friends stuck home with the flu, we all know what it’s like to be bored. It might seem like a simple, straightforward emotion: We have nothing to do, nothing to think about, and nothing to entertain us. Right?

Turns out, boredom is more complicated than you think, and we’re learning more about it all the time. There are a full five different types of boredom, each with different symptoms and circumstances. And one, apathetic boredom, is widespread, rampant, and recently “discovered.”

Apathetic boredom, the newest member of the family of boredoms, was found when psychologists at the University of Konstanz in Germany decided to study an often-overlooked human emotion. They examined people’s descriptions of their emotional states and surroundings when recalling boredom, and verified four types of boredom that had been already theorized about, along with a fifth surprise.

Researchers define this new type of boredom as being characterized by depression and a lack of motivation to do anything to get out of the bored state of mind. They found that this type of boredom was prevalent in situations where there were limited options available to a person, and also noted characteristics similar to depression and a complete lack of emotion. This new type of boredom is being added to the list of other types of boredom—next time you tell someone you’re bored, you can be more specific.

Searching boredom is characterized by doing things out of the ordinary or “just because” you need something to do. These actions can range from texting or emailing someone you haven’t heard from in ages to seeing if you can shoot a firecracker out of your car’s muffler (certainly not recommended). Searching boredom leads to actions, for better or worse, in an attempt to shake off the boredom.

Calibrating boredom is boredom that leads you to think about all the things you could be doing or should be doing . . . but you don’t actually get up and do them. Indifferent boredom is when you’re happy to be bored. You’re relaxing, unwinding after a long day, and you have nothing on your schedule—and that comes with a happy, content feeling. Finally, reactant boredom comes with not a little bit of anger about being bored, as it happens when you’re in a situation where you couldn’t do anything interesting if you wanted to. It’s the boredom that happens when you’re in a meeting at work, when you’re sitting in a lecture, or when you’re stuck in traffic.

Researchers also looked at how often people felt bored, and the results were surprising, mostly because people tend not to actively think about boredom much. It’s one of the most common emotions people feel: more common than happiness, anger, or sadness. And when it comes, it’s often much more intense than other feelings, too. The next time you’re “just bored,” remember that it’s a much more complicated emotion than you give it credit for.

Show Me The Proof

National Geographic: The Most Boring Article You’ll Read Today
LiveScience: New Type of Boredom Discovered, and It’s Rampant