The Problems of Boredom, Anxiety, and Despair

Boredom, anxiety, and despair are the human psyche’s major problems, and Kierkegaard spends most of his writing diagnosing these three ills. People are bored when they are not being stimulated, either physically or mentally. Relief from boredom can only be fleeting. Passion, a good play, Bach, or a stimulating conversation might provide momentary relief from boredom, but the relief doesn’t last. Boredom is not merely a nuisance: a psychologically healthy human must find some way to avert boredom. Conflicts between one’s ethical duty and one’s religious duty cause anxiety. Social systems of ethics often lead one to make choices that are detrimental to one’s spiritual health, and vice versa. The tension between these conflicting duties causes anxiety, and like boredom, anxiety must be escaped for a person to be happy.

Finally, despair is a result of the tension between the finite and the infinite. Humans are frightened of dying, but they are also frightened of existing forever. Kierkegaard believed that everyone would die but also that everyone had an immortal self, or soul, that would go on forever. Boredom and anxiety can be alleviated in various ways, but the only way to escape despair is to have total faith in God. Having total faith in God, however, was more than simply attending church regularly and behaving obediently. Faith required intense personal commitment and a dedication to unending self-analysis. Kierkegaard thought that having total faith in God, and thus escaping despair, was extremely difficult as well as extremely important.

Popular pages: Selected Works of Søren Kierkegaard