Boredom and Joy

Boredom Isn't Boring

Boredom is rather interesting. Why do I become bored? What, even, IS boredom? I notice boredom as a kind of restlessness in my body, and a thought that “there is something much better out there, and I need to get it.” I disconnect from what is happening right now, right here and begin to focus on other possibilities that exist, for the time being, only in my mind. I stop relating well with what is happening.

None of these things that happen when I notice boredom are “bad,” they just ARE. And, they sometimes interfere with noticing joy in life. It’s hard to notice joy when one is disconnected and absorbed in thoughts about what is not present.

Boredom Isn’t Boring

Really, boredom is a rather interesting thing, if we look at it without judgment. Here we are, with enough to eat, surrounded by things to do, surrounded by people to relate to, and here comes our mind to cut us off and turn us off and shut us down to the world around us. Whyever would our minds do that for us?


I’m a big fan of evolutionary psychology. This explanatory framework applies the concepts of evolution (survival needs, natural selection and so forth) to explain how we developed the brains and bodies, and so the behaviors, that we now have.  Boredom I’m thinking has to do with hunting and gathering, which we did for hundreds of thousands of years prior to the brief moment in time, 5000 years or so, that we call civilization. If there wasn’t much going on that had to do with finding food or a mate, or fighting off danger, then our brains started to look around for something that had such relevance for survival. Since we evolved verbal minds, we can now fantasize, which means as adults we think about food, sex, or dangers most commonly when we are bored.

Nature Doesn’t Care About Your Joy

Nature and evolution do not care if you enjoy your life. All our genes care about, our “selfish genes,” all they care about is whether something promotes survival: whether the genes are passed on to further generations. Joy is totally unnecessary for survival it seems. So we can get through life just fine without it, and in fact the more we focus on survival, the more our brains like that and help us to do more and more of it. Which is to say, to live a meaningless life of running, running, and running from whatever threatens us, and running, running, running toward whatever our bodies tell us is important (wealth, sex, popularity). This is a recipe for misery.

Boredom is Part of the Human Condition

Boredom is part of a much broader set of challenges we face as Human beings. We are caught in a sort of trap between the desires of our bodies on the one hand for pleasant sensations (including pride, triumph, satisfaction), and the needs of our “souls” on the other, which include living according to our values, principles, and truest joys (creating, parenting, playing, appreciating). Nature is not necessarily on our side, per se, as I opined already. Although deep down under layers of craving-mind, we do have an “Original Mind” that just sees, hears, smells and tastes, it takes a lot of work to begin to more fully experience that original mind. It takes Human effort, and Nature isn’t going to help us out very much.

Mindfulness Allows Us to See Beyond Boredom

Practicing mindfulness, we can see through boredom, past the temporary urges of the body-mind, to a greater, broader reality. I can prattle on all day about that “broader reality” but it’s just prattle. I do this prattling because I’m hoping you’ll practice mindfulness meditation, either with me and my company, or anywhere else. It’s really most important that you practice somewhere, not just on your own, though that’s not a bad way to start. If you live in Portland, Oregon, there are so many places to practice with a group, and so many teachers, many of whom are far more expert in meditation than me. But everywhere in the country there are skilled teachers. And there are also excellent books by skilled teachers of the present and past. What I offer is unusual because I am coming from psychology more than Buddhism, but it doesn’t matter, really. What matters is that we begin to practice seeing the present moment as it is, instead of ALWAYS through our minds.

Life In the Present is NOT Boring

When we practice mindfulness, we begin to see that, oddly enough, nothing in the present is boring. If we smoke marijuana or take other drugs that intoxicate our brains, sometimes we get glimpses of what the present can be like. I strongly recommend against using drugs, but many people know what it’s like to be stoned or high. Being in the present moment is kind of like that only it’s not always pleasant, and it doesn’t have bad side effects. You can have joy in the present moment, but there will also be pain. You don’t have to have a hangover or addiction to a substance, nor do you get arrested for practicing mindfulness! And you will be bored, oh so bored, practicing. But what pokes through the boredom, what we see through the boredom, is something like what you were looking for when you drank that scotch, when you smoked that marijuana or took that pill. And in time, you will learn to see through boredom, to the joy that is ALWAYS present, all around us. You will partake in that joy and it will not eliminate any of the pain in your life, except for the suffering that is caused by seeing the world ONLY through the mind. That’s what we’ve got for ya. If you want it, and are willing to work hard, it’s yours, I cannot give it to you or keep it from you. It’s yours already.

What do you think ‘boredom’ is, and how do you respond to it?

If you practice mindfulness, how does it contribute to joy for you?

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Joseph Rhinewine, PhD. People collaborate with me to live life fully: with principle, passion and vigor. My expertise is providing and teaching Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an evidence-based, experiential and relational behavior therapy. I also apply Acceptance and Commitment processes to coaching those who wish to take their lives to a new level.

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