Do we get bored with everything? Do friends and lovers, work and play, and even life itself eventually become dull and tedious? Does dissatisfaction with people and projects always set in? If so, should we quit what we are tired of, and try something else? Or should we accept the familiar because that’s our duty, or because we know that what’s new will become boring too?
The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who I’ve written about many times in this blog, (here, here, here, here, here, and here) famously thought that boredom was the essence of the human condition, which we experience when life is devoid of its usual distractions. We keep busy so as not to experience this essential boredom. But are we bored because life is boring or because we are bores? Some are bored by everything, others find simple things fascinating. So boredom is not inevitable, nor is it essential. Schopenhauer was wrong.
Do particular activities that were once fascinating later become boring? Yes. As a teenager I played competitive table tennis; after a few years, I was bored with table tennis. Later I played high-stakes poker; within a short time, I was bored with poker too. Later I learned to play golf; once I played reasonably well, I found golf boring. (Although I still enjoy the exercise.) Does my boredom say something about me, or does it say something about these activities? Maybe I bore easily, or perhaps these activities were not sufficiently stimulating. I know that stimulating persons need stimulation, and both our minds and bodies will atrophy without it.
Fortunately, some activities are more stimulating than others. I have never ceased to find the pursuit of knowledge interesting. Yes, I grew bored teaching introductory college ethics classes for the one-hundredth time—literally—but if you master philosophical ethics to your satisfaction, then find another topic. Don’t worry. There are plenty of things to do and learn. Might we eventually know everything and get bored? I don’t know. If I become omniscient I’ll let you know.
How about people? I have known people who have few thoughts, and others who have shallow thoughts. Such people ask few questions. And they already have their answers—usually the first ones they were exposed to. I find such people boring. By contrast, people on a journey are interesting, they are evolving. With them you never encounter the same person, they are as petals unfolding. They are like ships that sail in the ocean rather than being stuck in dry dock. How can you tire of their constant surprise?
Still, you may find yourself disappointed with someone you previously respected, or discover that someone is not as good or as interesting as you thought they were. What then? This is a difficult question and relates to a previous post about “settling,” especially for intimate partners. If your expectations for such partners are too high, you are bound to be disappointed; if your expectations are too low, you will settle for a bad partner and be discontent or even traumatized.
Here’s my advice. If you are almost always bored and you find your friends or lovers boring, it’s probably your problem. If you are usually interested in people and you find your friends or lovers boring, you should probably find more stimulating friends and lovers. If we could live multiple lives simultaneously we could discover which friends, lovers, activities, and projects were best. (A theme explored in Milan Kundera’s novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.) But we can’t walk two paths at the same time. We must choose. As Sartre’ said we are “condemned to be free.”
Another problem is that it is impossible for us to really know ourselves; for we are too close to ourselves. We don’t know if we deserve better friends, lovers, or jobs, or if we are lucky to have our current ones. The best thing we can do is ask others who know and love us what they think. Should I try something or someone else? Do I deserve better? Or should I be satisfied with what I have? Those who love us can’t know with certainty the answer to these questions, but they can be more objective about us than we can—for they stand outside of our subjectivity. In some ways, they know us better than we know ourselves. So ask those you trust, those who care about you, and ask yourself too. Then listen.
Unfortunately, this is not a complete answer, since we can never know for certain which road to travel. In the end, we don’t know which life is best, either for ourselves or others. Perhaps this is what Viktor Frankl had in mind when he wrote:
What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms.
I’ll end by leaving my readers with some advice I received long ago from Walt Whitman:
I tramp a perpetual journey, (come listen all!)
My signs are a rain-proof coat, good shoes, and a staff cut from the woods,
No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair,
I have no chair, no church, no philosophy,
I lead no man to a dinner-table, library, exchange,
But each man and each woman of you I lead upon a knoll,
My left hand hooking you round the waist,
My right hand pointing to landscapes of continents and the public road.
Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.
6 thoughts on “Does Everything Get Boring?”
I agree, we may get bored doing the same repetitive activities over time— tasks and hobbies that don’t change or skills that we have already mastered. Learning something new on the other hand, is hard to get bored with.
When people are first in relationships, they are learning new things about a person all the time. They are sharing things with each other and taking that person in, similar to a new hobby or activity. As long as both people are interested in learning and growing, it would be difficult to get bored with each other. I think boredom may occur when one person is more intellectually curious than another, or people stop sharing things with their partners.
Interesting last comment. I agree it is hard to see ourselves as we really are. Some people are more reflective than other, but still it is difficult. Then again, the people close to us are likely to have the highest opinions of us so they are not necessarily objective.
thanks for the thoughtful commments.
Love your little humour on being omniscient.
I do find everything boring and most people painfully boring. Perhaps boring is a mean word. Maybe it’s me who’s disconnected from it all.
Sometimes I scan the news on cnn, and it’s all headlines but I feel as though I’m looking at really old news. Ahhh. Perhaps nothing is indeed ever new under the sun.
I feel so disconnected, although at peace but very disconnected from people and the world. I secretly hate looking at pictures because they remind me of yesterday and sometimes it’s as if I’m looking at pictures of people who are from yesterday. I’ll just say it: it’s like looking at photographs of dead people.
What’s wrong with me. I don’t think it’s me. I think, perhaps, it’s a state of being enlightened in God. You no longer have any interest for this world. It’s a very strange dichotomy. One one hand you learn to love, on the other you are disconnected from them.
Perhaps I’m heart broken and don’t even know it because I’m too prideful.
Perhaps it is a state of mind of someone who’s like every other spoiled American although I’m not American.
Glad to know I’m not alone.
Forgot to mention, sometimes, I read Ecclasiastes in the Old Testament by King Solomon when I feel that everything under the sun is meaningless.
To those of us who are bored easily: remember that innermost thrill when you first laid eyes on your new puppy, or when you saw it snow for the first time? As we evolve into higher states of consciousness, we can experience increasing boredom with this world. But the joy of realizing the Self, which is pure joy, eventually comes. Lindsi
Nope, that was completely unhelpful!