Boredom and despair: The cure will surprise you

No, you don’t have to bury your phone in the back yard

Susan Brassfield Cogan
4 min readNov 4, 2017
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There are a lot of articles out there about how to get unaddicted to your phone. It’s a distraction and a productivity killer. Yep. That’s true. I can raise my hand and attest to that.

I also read a recent article about how you should allow yourself to be bored from time to time. And I agree with that. I get my best ideas when I put away all distractions and just … let my mind wander and go wherever it goes.

But I and a lot of Medium contributors, are pretty hard-charging. We know what we want and we are hell-bent on going after it. We’re avid learners and crazy-busy doers.

This article is not for us.

Boredom and despair

I could have split this into two articles but in my experience boredom and despair are linked.

Despair isn’t depression. Depression is a particular psychological condition.

Despair is different. Despair is meaninglessness. It’s playing World of Warcraft for 6 hours because there’s nothing else to do. It’s obsessively checking social media because nothing is going on and a chat or a fight or a new love affair will fill the time.

I remember feeling like that. It felt like I was entertaining myself to death.

Once upon a time …

Early in the last century, taking care of a house was a full-time job. A woman worked 14-hour days to keep after it all. It might not be her dream job, it might not have been fulfilling her as a human being. She may have wanted to be a doctor or an accountant. There was no time or expectation that she could think about that stuff. She was busy all day long.

Then about mid-century, washing machines and dryers were available and affordable. Same with vacuum cleaners and dishwashers. A full 14-hour job became a two-hour job. Now what? There was TV. There were books (the paper kind). There was even still radio (back then it was a rudimentary form of podcasting). Yeah, and that took up another couple of hours. And now we’re down to 10 hours of …

A man was supposed to be ashamed if his wife worked outside the home. It meant he wasn’t a good enough provider, a blot on his manhood. So there was a social stigma if a woman got a job and they were still barred from most professions. So a lot of them became feminists or drug addicts or divorced.

Even if you didn’t end up reading Betty Friedan, leaving your husband or eating 30 barbitals, it made for a miserable life.

Fast forward to the present day.

Lately there has been a lot of information floating around about teenagers and young adults succumbing to depression because of their cell phones which separate them from their peers. They don’t get together as much, or socialize much.

And because of that they are depressed. The suicide rate among teens is rising.

I think it’s all backwards. I think the despair is prior to the Facebooking and Twittering and Snapchatting.

And I think boredom is prior to that.

Now, I know if you want to be a cool kid you need to be hard to entertain and easily bored. Only nerds and geeks are interested in stuff. Only those kids in the band or chess club care deeply about things.

So we end up with teenagers who become adults who struggle to keep themselves entertained and distracted and wondering why the world





Human doings

Working 14 hours a day isn’t the answer … exactly … except it is.

A lot of adults grow out of their bored cool kid phase when they go to college and get interested in something. Or when they get a job and stumble into something they enjoy doing.

Kurt Vonnegut once said “We are human beings, not human doings.”

I disagree. We are both.

Yes, we need to relax and just be sometimes but we are not human without doing.

Our ancestors worked much harder than I want to imagine. Men worked all day making the living and women worked all day keeping a house running. There was no adolescence. Teenagers were viewed as young men and women and were expected to do useful work.

Now, not so much.

We are meaning-making animals.

Meaning doesn’t come from what we are, but what we do. Too much being and not enough doing leads to boredom, despair and emptiness.

So here’s an actionable idea, a path out of despair: there’s an awful lot of stuff in the world that needs doing. Go do it!

Make bird houses, mow lawns for cash. Sweep the sidewalk in front of your apartment building. Serve food at the homeless shelter. Clean the house of the elderly lady next door.

That stuff may not be glamorous or cool but it feels freaking good to have done it. If all my suggestions sound like the self-help version of Dad jokes, start talking to your friends about it and ask them for suggestions.

On Snapchat, of course


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Susan Brassfield Cogan

I write self-help, life coaching, and political opinion. I am a creativity and mindfulness coach