“Professor Binns opened his notes and began to read in a flat drone like an old vacuum cleaner until nearly everyone in the class was in a deep stupor, occasionally coming round long enough to copy down a name or date, then falling asleep again.” – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
What kind of boredom are we talking about here? And is it linked to depression?
Turns out there are five types of boredom and the research on the topic is ramping up as indicated in Nature’s January 2016 issue. What was demonstrated in the quote above is apathetic boredom, where your thoughts wander, as in the quote about the boring Hogwart’s history professor, and it is related to helplessness and little arousal. Many high school students, at least 36%, reported this feeling in a survey by Goetz and colleagues in Motivation and Emotion.
The other types noted are indifferent, calibrating, reactant and searching boredom. Searching may be the best type, as due to the unpleasant restlessness you feel, you actively look for ways out of the boredom via hobbies, leisure pursuits or interesting work. It could even be considered a catalyst for change.
Reactant is the worst, as people that are experiencing this level of boredom are often restless, angry and aggressive, perhaps even violent. They may be self medicating and often want to escape dull situations, like grinding poverty—and usually the others they blame for it, like parents, teachers or bosses. Boredom, depression and destructive behaviors are often linked.
Indifferent folks are simply calmly disengaged, a sort of worn out end-of-the-week feeling that can cause you to feel pleasantly disconnected. I think of this type of boredom as a natural state of life at times, and do not consider it negative.
And lastly calibrating boredom is where people find their thoughts wandering, perhaps at a repetitive job, and they want to do something different, but they are not really sure how to go about it.
The value in understanding what kind of bored you are is that you can then go about addressing your particular situation. Sometimes boredom can be a device, a catalyst, that spurs you on to find a purposeful life. Finding a purpose larger than yourself can give your life meaning. It can cause a person to seek healthy change. But if your boredom is truly a symptom of depression, getting some help from a professional therapist is in order. Remember that boredom, depression and self-destructive behaviors are often linked. The thing is, most people don’t realize that they have all the answers already. The therapist is simply there to help point them out when you cannot see them.