Boredom and Anti-Work Motivations

Work is so fun!

I’m excited to write about the topic of boredom again given how popular my previous piece on it has been on this site.

In that post I explored whether boredom was as bad as many people presume and I went at length to discuss the differences between being simply bored in the moment and bored over long stretches of time.

An article entitled Life without boredom would be a nightmare on the ever interesting Aeon.co site makes a similar distinction:

When one speaks of boredom, one often speaks of the commonplace, fleeting, aversive psychological state. But one can also talk about the propensity to experience boredom in a wide range of situations – what psychologists call ‘boredom proneness’.

The latter is nothing trivial; it means experiencing boredom often, in numerous and differing situations, even in ones that most of us would find to be meaningful and interesting. To be bored often and almost regardless of the situation is to experience the world in an disengaged, cold and detached manner – situations, goals, projects do not attract you, they keep their distance from you, they are not really yours.

In my previous article where I discussed boredom the proneness was really what I was rallying against. I knew someone who literally felt like their brain was eating them alive if they got bored enough. As a result, this person ended up finding very unusual and sometimes destructive (both internally and externally) habits to keep themselves going. That sort of boredom is definitely something that should be criticized at face value and seen negatively.

But more generally boredom isn’t about proneness.

Often we simply feel boredom because as the author Andreas Elipidorou explains,

Often boredom arises as the result of the perception of a mismatch: a gap between the need for stimulation and its availability. We want something that simply is not there. Boredom is our awareness of that absence.

In monotonous activities, we are bored because we want more variety than we can find.

In familiar situations, we are bored because we crave novelty, yet none is offered.

And when engaged in compulsory tasks, we are bored because we want to do something other than what is demanded from us.

If boredom stems from unfulfilled desire, then in order to allay boredom we would need to satisfy that desire. To escape boredom, in other words, we need to seek activities that seem congruent with our wishes.

This is where anti-work comes in and part of what motives me both ideologically and practically: Boredom.

I currently work at (another) convenience store job and sometimes the worst times aren’t where it’s busy but those little lulls of where nothing is happening. All of the sudden all of this responsibility is hoisted onto me and I have to do these side tasks that are repetitive, monotonous, unfulfilling and generally just “busy work” disguised as important work. It isn’t as if when I’m not doing that sort of work I’m thrilled to be at work, but at least I have something to occupy my mind even if it’s unpleasant and not something I’d prefer to engage in.

One of the things with service industry type jobs is that often times the people are the ones who can make it or break it. Sometimes I get people I know, people with cool shirts, people with children that make funny comments or maybe I just have a memorable exchange with someone at the counter. There’s a guy who sometimes tips as much as $20 for getting his newspapers in a row and there are plenty of regular customers who know the staff and are fun(ish) to be around.

But of course none of this makes up for the shitty nature of the job. I’m still doing work I take no pride in, at a company I could care less about and for a paycheck that is only barely going to meet my (relatively very low) costs in life. This isn’t a recipe for happiness, it’s a recipe for boredom-proneness.

And unfortunately many folks seem to have this inclination at the job they are currently at.

Just a few hours ago I was catching up with an old friend who informed me he got a new job at a bank and while it was okay it was a little boring. This is one of the bigger problems with work today: The boredom comes from a mixture of the familiar, the compulsory and the monotonous. In other words, modern work tends to mix the worst forms of boredom and make you inclined to feel them for as many hours as you’re “involved”.

There’s a passage in this article that really drives the point of the title home:

Now, imagine a life that is devoid of boredom.

On first glance, many of us might find such a prospect desirable, even ideal. But consider it more carefully. We are not talking about a life bereft of boring situations. Someone like [the American vaudeville performer Edward H Gibson] is free of pain only insofar as he cannot experience it. Such a life, however, still contains dangerous and harmful things.

Similarly, the life of someone who cannot experience boredom will be free of boredom – but only because the subject of this life cannot experience boredom. If we did not have the capacity for boredom, then any situation – regardless of how trivial, banal, or humdrum it might be – would fail to strike us as boring. Nothing would be boring. Not the experience of listening to the same lecture over and over again. Not the seemingly endless time spent waiting in offices. Yet some situations should bore us.

Unsurprisingly I’d argue that work is one of those things that should bore you. If you’re doing a job you dislike with people and companies you don’t care about and in an industry you’d rather not be in, why shouldn’t you be bored? It all goes back to the paradigm of being able to choose those activities that are most congruent with your interests and desires.

The anti-work ideas I advocate are completely in line with abolishing boredom-proneness but keeping boredom itself around as long as it’s necessary for creativity. Pain is sometimes necessary for lessons and suffering itself can be a good teacher even if it’s also a painful one that should (ideally) be minimized as much as possible. None of this is to glorify pain or boredom, but just to recognize that these are all necessary parts of living.

 And not only is boredom necessary for living but more importantly it’s necessary for resistance.

Boredom often gives us the motivation (sometimes later rather than sooner) to improve our lots in life and one could hope that the worldwide boredom we all share at our jobs will inspire us to move elsewhere as times goes on.


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2 thoughts on “Boredom and Anti-Work Motivations

  1. hi Nick –
    just wondering, I dunno if you’ve covered ‘why’ it is you work in retail/service jobs. I suppose I mean… its like I worked in them for a while in my teens and thought I absolutely cannot let myself end up in factory work. then I kinda thought I don’t want office work… but its where most of the slightly less horrid conditions are, and after skirting around a few other things I ended up mostly in office work… and although its soul sapping etc, I think its far better ultimately than retail/service (in most instances) –

    I just wonder, have you considered like a full time or even part time salaried job.. it might provide you with more cash so you don’t have to keep jumping in and out of shop roles as often.. Im pretty sure you would be capable of getting one, but maybe there aren’t any where you live or something?

    anyway just thinking aloud. not massively relevant to this blog but I just know its worked better for me in terms of security etc… having said that maybe if I chose something more along your path I might be more creative?!

    • Hey, Hugh.

      This is a good blog post but briefly: Because there’s plenty of it around me, because I have experience with it, because I can (sometimes) get away with slacking.

      I don’t want a full time job for fairly obvious reasons and retail is pretty easy (“easy”) to get part-time and not full-time work at.

      I’m not sure if there are any, to be honest. Likely there is and I just don’t look for them because I don’t think to and don’t really want to.

      Anyways, I do part-time retail work because it often gives me enough time to focus on other projects too.

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