Ever felt bored to tears? Maybe it was yesterday flipping through 1,000 TV and streaming options and not liking any of them. Or else it's the current daily grind of work, dinner and kids that never seems to change. Boredom can give rise to ennui, a chronic type of boredom, characterized by listlessness, discontent and sadness. Pronounced "ahn-wee," the word is aptly named, as its roots are in the Latin for "annoy," as well as the Old French "enuuier," which means "to vex."
Many people with ennui don't even know that they have it, as there isn't exactly a blood test for the emotional state. "Feelings associated with ennui have been described as 'mental weariness' and a general feeling of dissatisfaction and being unengaged," says Emily Edlynn, Ph.D. with the blog The Art and Science of Mom in an email. "It's important to note that research examining chronic boredom and depression have found that although highly associated, they are distinct states and not the same emotionally."
Ennui hasn't been studied much, although boredom has been and it's difficult to pin down, diagnostically speaking.
"Boredom, like all emotions, does not have a one-to-one mapping with 'symptoms' or expressions; rather, we can feel bored in different ways at different times, just like we can feel anger and other emotions in a variety of ways (from quiet frustration at a late colleague to rage at a person who has harmed a loved one)," explains Erin C. Westgate, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Florida via email. "Empirical evidence suggests that boredom, for instance, is sometimes associated with heightened physiological arousal (i.e., fast heart rate) and sometimes with low arousal (i.e., slow heart rate, lower blood pressure, etc). Thus, there's likely no one way that ennui or chronic boredom feels."
Certain types of people seem more likely to develop ennui. "Neurological studies suggest that some people, like thrill-seekers, need more stimulation to release the brain's pleasure and reward chemicals. For some reason, men are more likely to fall in this category," says Edlynn. It also seems that people with low self-awareness about their emotions are more prone to ennui. "The theory is that again, they do not have awareness about what provides them satisfaction," she explains, adding that people with attention problems such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to experience serious states of boredom.