Lack of work has been responsible with many people for a vast deal of unhappiness and general dissatisfaction. The busier, more hard-working, and active we are, the more are we likely to escape the evils of boredom.
The world's workers may be over-tired, fagged out, it is true, but they escape that miserable sense of depression, oppression, and personal discontent which the schoolboy designates "the hump." It is infinitely better to be tired than bored, because fatigue is what doctors call physiological, and boredom is abnormal.
Most people have suffered at some period or other from being bored. Those whose work is all-satisfying, or whose temperaments are of the fortunate, happy type, are the only ones who escape. But boredom is the Hades of the lazy, the punishment which Nature metes out to us for denying her law of work, her teaching that by labour and endeavour alone can man attain the highest; and man in this sense must necessarily include woman. There is something infinitely pathetic in the sufferings which we can only "sense" of the women whose lives are empty of work, interests, and unselfish occupation. No woman, however materially prosperous she may be, if she possess a mind or a soul, can be happy without some interest outside herself.
It is not the busy, hard working, fully occupied housewife, with her basket of stockings to mend at the end of a strenuous day, who is in danger of being bored. It is not the business woman who has to work in order that she may eat, nor the strenuous worker in philanthropic affairs, who know the meaning of boredom. There are people who are ill through having nothing to do; women who are miserable, unhappy, out of tune with the best in life, bored with themselves and everybody else for lack of the right sort of work. There are, of course, many people who work fairly hard and would tell you that they are bored. But their malady is a very minor one compared with the disease as it is found amongst idle rich and idle poor alike.
Now, boredom is a much more serious matter than people realise. In people of nervous temperament it may lead to melancholia and chronic nervous derangement. It undermines the physical health, and everybody knows that the gentleman whose name is not mentioned in polite society finds mischief for the idle hands and idle minds to do. The busy people are more likely to be happy and "good" as well.
The dangers of boredom are physical, mental, and moral, so that we ought to avoid boredom as our ancestors avoided the plague; and anyone who suffers from the disease in a chronic form should pull herself up at once. There is no doubt that if we all lived rightly, wisely, and hygienically, we would be happy and content whatever our sphere of life might be. Wrong living and wrong thinking are the real causes of 90 per cent. of unhappiness in this life. Boredom is a sign of wrong living. It is a psychical symptom of ill-health of mind and spirit, and, like worry, it poisons the whole outlook on life.
It is said that boredom is increasing. The modern woman demands a good deal. She is temperamently averse to dullness and drudgery, and apparently incapable of devoting herself to household affairs with the satisfaction of her grandmother. This desire for a wider outlook may or may not be a good thing.
The woman who has domestic duties has no right to neglect them, to take up work or interests that unfit her for the home sphere and make her discontented with her own particular niche in the world. But there are many women who have the time for both. Life in the past tended to make women squander their time. They had to fill up their days, and spend six or eight hours in accomplishing what could have been done in two. We all know that the busiest people are those who can be called upon to take up yet another duty, and many women are bored because they do not realise that they are suffering from insufficient work and occupation.
So if you are bored, ask yourself first of all if you do six, seven, or eight hours' real, honest work in the twenty-four. An Act of Parliament to make every man and woman in the kingdom work for six hours every day is just as much needed as Bills to regulate the hours of the toilers. It would cut at the root of the boredom of the lazy, self-indulgent, idle people in the prosperous classes at least. The old teaching that girls who did not have to work for their living from necessity should spend the years between eighteen and the time they marry in practical idleness is giving way before a healthier state of things. The right to work is being conceded to women, and the benefits will be apparent in their children's children.
There is plenty of work in the world to be done by people who are not compelled to make their living, and every young woman who wishes to escape boredom should make up her mind to get a definite training in some sphere of work, whether housewifery, science, sick nursing, medicine, or philanthropy. Physical as well as mental laziness accounts for boredom in many cases. Two hours' housework would be the best possible thing for many women who may be mentally occupied, but whose health suffers from lack of physical exertion. The Harley Street specialist who tells his society patients to have a big family and do their own washing is putting in a crude way a fundamental truth. There is a good deal of primitive woman in even fashionable femininity, and hyper-civilisation hampers their development.
But granted that you work hard with your hands and your head every day of the week, with only a fair allowance of holidays, and yet are bored, what is the reason? In all probability it is a question of your health. There is a two-edged truth in the reply a doctor gave when asked "Is life worth living?" when he said, "It all depends upon the liver." Bile-poisoned blood would make a saint or a genius bored in time. Erratic diet, dietetic mistakes, and anything which makes digestive derangement chronic and persistent, are common causes of boredom. Everybody who has suffered from dyspepsia, from Carlyle to the modern business man in his suburban home, has known that sense of depression which follows in its train.
So that the cure for boredom may be, not work, but chewing, and more time given to the consideration of health and diet. The anaemic woman who is "too tired" to take outdoor exercise, who has no appetite for food, and who eats at odd times during the day, is 50 per cent. more likely to be bored and unhappy than the girl who goes in for her proper amount of exercise out of doors in all weathers.
Then a large number of people are unhappy because they are unconsciously suffering from some eye defect. And there are many other physical ills that may account in the same way for depression of spirits and lack of interest in life.
Although the perfectly healthy individual who has a fair share of work is less likely to suffer from boredom, there is no doubt that the higher types of people are dissatisfied with life because they are dissatisfied with themselves. This is a self-exacting generation, and we have reached that stage of development when selfishness does not pay, when happiness must be earned. The unthinking happiness of the animal is becoming less and less common amongst modern men and women, and boredom in some cases is but another name for the consciousness of falling short of an ideal. There is something pathetic in the people who have allowed themselves to become slack, who have "let go," who have lost grip of the essential things of life in the pursuit of some lower aim.
The old-fashioned Latin proverb, "Be good and you will be happy," puts in simple fashion a veritable truth before us. The goodness of the "unco guid" does not appeal to many of us, but most people know whenever they have fallen short of their conception of right and of duty, and the unhappiness they call boredom may be the visible expression of this. There is no doubt that some form of unselfish work is the best preventive of boredom. Unselfish work is the ideal work. It keeps obscure people working happily for their children in apparently sordid surroundings. It is the lack of an unselfish ideal that gives birth to the discontent and dissatisfaction of the mighty.
So, if you are bored, find out the reason. Remember that once the habit of being bored with people and things is allowed to establish itself, you will eradicate it with difficulty. If you find the people you associate with bore you to death, ask yourself if the fault is not in yourself. Perhaps the dull person in the society you frequent is "you." The greatest people are able to find happiness in little things, to be entertained by the simplest company. Boredom is not a sign of superiority - rather the reverse. It is intellectual snobbery. It means selfishness and self-absorption.
Everybody is interesting if you get the real person, and when people bore you it is well to remember that the reason may be that you are not able to touch the right chord, and bring out the best in them. Once we realise that boredom is a sign of degeneration, there is hope for us. The man who puts on side about being easily bored is a fool. The woman who gets bored with herself and her surroundings is somehow lacking, and the best thing for her may be a course of good reading, of association with superior minds and broad intellects. We can all get into the "best society" if we like to read the right books. If we can touch the minds of the greatest thinkers of this and other ages, a narrow social circle seems of very little consequence. The man or woman who reads in the right way is unlikely to be bored.
We must remember that a sense of boredom and depression may mean impaired health, and the wise woman will follow the hints given in this and other articles on the need of attention to any known cause or ailment. The wise plan is to aim at a high standard of health if we wish to be all-round capable and efficient.