It’s Okay to be Bored, But What You’re Feeling Isn’t Boredom

Meet despair, depression’s restless cousin, and learn how to overcome it

Marius Masalar

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For those of us who concern ourselves with personal productivity, boredom can feel like an admission of failure.

There’s always something we ought to be doing, and if we aren’t doing that thing, we feel guilty. That’s the trouble with the Sisyphean drive to optimize and micromanage every aspect of our lives. It pretends that time, like a cup, is only useful when filled.

But sometimes—especially during these times—it’s not.

This Isn’t Boredom

Work is curtailed or vanishing, social obligations have thinned, and what we’re left with is an unfamiliar and often uncomfortable remainder.

It doesn’t feel like an abundance of free time; it’s time, sure, but polluted by worry and doubt. It feels like an inability to operate at our normal capacity. We’re confined. Are we making ends meet? Are we doing enough to help? We feel diminished, somehow, and struggle to place that feeling. Reaching for an optimistic explanation, we find the closest analogue to be “boredom”, so we assign the label.

But what you’re feeling isn’t boredom, it’s despair.

Despair is like depression, but restless.

A low-grade, pernicious kind of despair that weaves itself into daily life so insidiously that you don’t even notice it. It’s despair at our own lack of agency in all this, suddenly thrown into sharp relief. Despair at the reaching and unpredictable consequences of the actions and inaction of others. Despair at the rising tide of scary numbers, and the struggle to keep seeing them as individuals instead of sterile statistics.

Despair is like depression, but restless. By the time it’s taken hold, you’re busy calling it “boredom” and wondering why the usual remedies aren’t working.

Luckily, despair can be extinguished.

Lack of Control is Not Lack of Influence

We can fight boredom with activity.

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Marius Masalar

Senior brand content strategist at 1Password. Occasional game composer, frequent photographer.