Meaning and Self-Esteem: How Low Self-Esteem Contributes to Chronic Boredom and an Inability to Find Your Purpose

So much of my life was wasted. Growing up with an anxiety disorder, or several, made me want to run away from life; it made me decide not to decide anything. Thus, I spent most of my childhood, adolescence, and even some of my adulthood waiting. I kept hoping that life would just become better, that some opportunity would arise or that some girl I had a crush on would magically like me back. My existence epitomized passivity. I was waiting for a muse or something to snap me out of my emotional destitution.

The waiting created a sense of mind-numbing torment.

On a recent episode of Seize the Moment Podcast, we spoke with researcher Andreas Elpidorou about the upside of boredom and explored the links between self-esteem and chronically being bored. In his book, Propelled, Andreas outlined the difference between everyday boredom and its chronic counterpart, which is linked to depressive symptoms. According to Andreas,

Boredom proneness is different than the simple and everyday boredom that most of us experience and which can be dispelled by a change of situation or mind. The boredom-prone individual often and easily finds herself to be bored, even in situations that others find interesting and stimulating… She lack excitement for, or can find no purpose in, what she is doing. She easily becomes frustrated, restless, or weary by situations that are either challenging or lacking in variety.

So, I reasoned that chronic boredom had to be linked to low self-worth. And that was my experience: I felt helpless and hopeless, with the result that nothing which required more than minimal effort interested me. In waiting, I was waiting to be saved; I needed something to get me out.

Although I can’t speak of the research on boredom and self-esteem, my observations indicate a fairly strong association between the two. Chronic boredom, in essence, is waiting. As for me, I don’t recall waiting for anything specific; it was just a lull. And, again based on my observations, I believe that many find themselves in that same predicament. Without a strong sense of who they are and what they can do, a lot of people struggle with what to do. Meaning and self-esteem are linked in that your assessment of your capabilities illuminates your opportunities: the more that you believe you can do, the more doors you perceive as open to you. So, I wonder, why self-esteem is overlooked in areas focused on meaning. The existentialists focus on the significance of meaning to mental health and researchers track the link between the two, but we seldom emphasize what seems apparent to me, that a sense of meaning can’t be cultivated without self-respect. And we need others’ help to foster it.

Seth Godin, the notable marketing wizard, asserted that most people spend their time on things that they can’t control as opposed to those they can. For me, it would mean that instead of writing, which I can control, most of my focus would be placed on convincing others to read my work, which I have much less control over. But, I had to be “propelled” to start somewhere. And to focus on my writing, I needed someone else to tell me it was worth doing; I needed to know that someone somewhere would appreciate it. Unfortunately, when I was chronically bored, I was unable to believe in my ability because I was unable to accept praise. So, I spent my time on what I couldn’t control; I spent it wishing.

Now, there’s a part of me that regrets how I lived throughout much of my life. I wish I saw a therapist earlier and didn’t drop out of college initially. I wish I fought harder to reduce my fears. And I wish that I thought more deeply about my responsibility for my despair. However, I’m gifted with the chance to metaphorically turn back time, to recreate myself. So, I try my best to remind myself of Godin’s advice and to place my efforts into the work that’s solely mine. I remind myself of the positive feedback I’ve received and continue to push myself forward. I write my blogs and work on the podcast hoping that others read and listen, but remain content with the dialogue in itself, shifting my attention to what I learned.

When searching for meaning, it’s important to discover what you can and should contribute, whether you’re speaking with a therapist, mentor, teacher, or a loved one. Additionally, if you struggle with accepting praise, maybe it’s best to see a therapist. The seemingly endless listlessness that accompanies depression can be resolved and transformed into ordinary boredom, which can then be harnessed for exploration and excitement. It isn’t too late. It wasn’t for me, and it isn’t for you, either.

You can check out our full episode with Andreas here:

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