• Displaying or having no interest in or feeling toward anything due to a lack of energy, spirit, motivation, or attentiveness


When the holiday season rolls around, some of us will doubtless start scribbling down a "Christmas list," where we will record all of the gifts we most desire to receive. But what if this holiday season we discover that there is simply nothing we desire at all? Well, in that case, we would be listless! Of course, the meaning of listless doesn't actually have anything to do with the absence of a list, but it does have a lot to do with the feeling of not desiring or being interested in anything.

It's usually not too hard to notice if someone is feeling listless. A listless person will generally appear gloomy and bored. After all, if you feel no interest in anything around you, it's hard not to show that feeling through your face or body language. And listlessness is more than simply "boredom." Often someone becomes listless because they have lost a focal point of their energy, hopes, or aspirations. For example, if you were to spend two years devoting all your energy to starting your own company only to see the project fizzle out, you would likely feel uninterested in putting energy into anything for some time afterward. Similarly, the most iconic source of listlessness is unrequited love. After losing something that you put a lot of emotional or intentional energy into, be it a business endeavor or that cute guy on the tennis team, it is natural to feel as if there is no point in really taking an interest in anything.

Listless can describe not only individual people but also a group, event, or setting. Anything which we can attribute liveliness or vitality to, like a party or a family reunion, can also be described as listless. If something can be lively, then it can also be lacking in liveliness. A particularly thriving habitat for listlessness is the office meeting. Have you ever been in a tired meeting where everyone seemed bored and uninterested in what the group was trying to accomplish? If so, you have been in a listless meeting. If not, congratulations!

Most of us probably feel a little listless from time to time, but next time you start to feel uninterested in everything around you at least you'll be able to describe that feeling with precision!

Example: As the days passed and Dave still received no response to his passionate love letter, he grew increasingly listless, eating very little and talking even less.

Example: Millicent tried to liven up the listless office party, but her vivacity was no match for the pervasive spirit of boredom and vague resentment.


Listless first came into use in the mid-fifteenth century. It derives from Middle English word liste which refers to pleasure or delight. Thus, the addition of the suffix -less rendered the word's meaning literally "without pleasure or delight," and that meaning has not changed significantly to the present day.

Derivative Words

Listlessness: Listlessness is a noun which refers to the condition of being listless.

Example: After several days without anything meaningful to do, even the usually plucky Elaine began to succumb to listlessness.

Listlessly: The adverb listlessly describes an action which is performed in a listless fashion.

Example: The lovesick young man poked listlessly at the lasagna with his fork.

In Literature

From Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five:

There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces.

Here, Vonnegut uses listless to describe men who are not "characters" because they do not intentionally act on their feelings or strive toward any goal of their own.


  • If you're feeling uninterested in anything, then make a list of everything that makes you feel less listless.


Feelings, Emotion, Psychology, Ennui

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of listless. Did you use listless in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.