ABSTRACT

Boredom as a factor in human behaviour has received, in my opinion, far less attention than it deserves. It has been, I believe, one of the great motive powers throughout the historical epoch, and is so at the present day more than ever. Boredom would seem to be a distinctively human emotion. Animals in captivity, it is true, become listless, pace up and down, and yawn, but in a state of nature I do not believe that they experience anything analogous to boredom. Most of the time they are on the lookout for enemies, or food, or both; sometimes they are mating, sometimes they are trying to keep warm. But even when they are unhappy, I do not think that they are bored. Possibly anthropoid apes may resemble us in this respect, as in so many others, but having never lived with them I have not had the opportunity to make the experiment. One of the essentials of boredom consists in the contrast between present circumstances and some other more agreeable circumstances which force themselves irresistibly upon the imagination. It is also one of the essentials of boredom that one’s faculties must not be fully occupied. Running away

from enemies who are trying to take one’s life is, I imagine, unpleasant, but certainly not boring. A man would not feel bored while he was being executed, unless he had almost superhuman courage. In like manner no one has ever yawned during his maiden speech in the House of Lords, with the exception of the late Duke of Devonshire, who was reverenced by their Lordships in consequence. Boredom is essentially a thwarted desire for events, not necessarily pleasant ones, but just occurrences such as will enable the victim of ennui to know one day from another. The opposite of boredom, in a word, is not pleasure, but excitement.