5 Scientific Benefits of Being Bored

Scrolling and scrolling through your social media feed, but nothing seems interesting or cool.

Sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for your appointment and your phone’s battery just died.

Taking a class where the teacher just seems to drone on and on, and you could not care less about what they were talking about.

Walking aimlessly around your apartment, bored out of your mind, because there's nowhere else to go.

I hear ya  -  we’ve all been there.

Boredom is something we’ve all experienced from time to time. And in the past 6 months, I’m sure you’ve experienced it more than you usually would.

Our first instinct is usually to run away from this feeling. But what if I told you that boredom might actually be a good thing?

This post will cover:

Break down the concept of boredom

Talk about when being bored can lead to some bad things

Discuss some reasons why boredom can actually be a good thing.

Defining Boredom

Before I get into the psychological definition, let me ask you: what does being bored look like for you?

For me, it involves a lot of aimless wandering, physically or mentally. I just don’t feel like doing anything because nothing seems appealing or stimulating.

Even if I have work or chores I could be doing, they don't seem interesting enough to satisfy my boredom. I’ll open the fridge 20 times, or walk around from room to room in my apartment (because, ya know, there’s nowhere else to go) or just scroll mindlessly through my social media feed.

Research in this area defines boredom as the state that occurs when:

We are unable to engage in a particular activity because we cannot focus our attention on the required internal information (our thoughts and feelings) or external information (environmental stimuli) necessary for the activity at hand

We become aware of the fact that we can’t focus and don’t feel like engaging a particular activity. We notice that our mind is wandering or that we have to put in a great deal of effort in order to stay focused.

We attribute the cause of our boredom to the external environment and its lack of stimulation (“this class is so boring” or “there’s nothing to do”).

In other (more simpler) words, boredom is defined by our “unfulfilled desire for satisfying activity”.  

Think about it: what does boredom look like for you? When do you feel the most bored?

While you’re thinking about that, let’s talk about the potential downsides of boredom.

The Downside Of Boredom

Unfortunately, boredom can have some pretty serious negative consequences.

Have you or your friends ever done something irresponsible because you were "bored"? Does that ring a bell?

While I won’t use this section to call you out, I do want bring to attention to some research that discusses the potential pitfalls of boredom.

When bored, people tend to engage in risky behaviour.

In young people, this includes drug and alcohol use. In students, those who are bored are more likely to have lower grades and more likely to drop out of school.

Other research suggests that boredom can lead to a variety of self-destructive behaviour in adults, including gambling, substance abuse and self-harm. Additionally, boredom is correlated with greater anxiety, depression and substance use, and lower mindfulness.

Fair to say, boredom doesn’t seem so boring after all.

But before you start avoiding boredom completely, it’s important to remember that being boredom isn't inherently bad. It is important that we're mindful of what we do when we are bored.  

Boredom And Our Current Reality

Perhaps the reason why we’re so acutely aware of the concept of boredom is because we suddenly have lots of time to think about it.

Living in a global pandemic (are you tired of this phrase yet?) will do that to ya.

But seriously – given how much more time we have now, it seems like the things we used to do occupy ourselves, like spending time on social media, Netflix etc., doesn’t seem to satisfy us the way it used to.

Our world is changing and so are we, whether we like it or not. That also means that the things we normally did to engage ourselves aren’t cutting it anymore.

A lot of this has to do with social media, as well. At the beginning of lockdown, we may have turned to social media to engage with our loved ones, keep up with the news and just keep ourselves busy.

The choices are endless, but we're still bored. Researchers define this as the “paradox of choice”. Even though we have many options to help alleviate our boredom - hours of shows of every genre, books, social media posts - nothing seems to do the job. Even if we spend hours doing these things, it just seems to make it all worse.

So what can we do? Well first, it might humble us all a little bit to recognize that for many of us, boredom is a privilege. Yes, boredom is something that everyone experiences, but not everyone is able to experience boredom without worrying about more important things.

Many of us don’t have to worry about our next meal, our next paycheque or where we’re going to sleep tonight. We spend that time doing other things, and one of those things is feeling bored.

So yeah, let’s check our privilege for a second.

Beyond that, we have to recognize that boredom isn’t a bad thing. Being bored is a privilege and a gift. We don't have to run away from boredom.

So how can we look at boredom in a more positive light?

5 Surprising Benefits of Boredom

1. Boredom Fosters Creativity

This one is pretty obvious – often times, when we’re bored or when we have nothing to do, that’s when inspiration strikes.

Boredom can lead to creativity because no one wants to be bored. We often try to run away from boredom, so we try to find other things to do or think about.

Boredom can lead to daydreaming, and while our grade-school teachers used to chastise us for having our heads in the clouds, daydreaming can also lead to some surprising benefits, including better problem-solving skills and more creativity.

You also may have noticed how lots of people during quarantine have been pretty creative. Whether it’s whipped coffee, memes or Tiktok dances, people are using this “boring” time to do fun and innovative activities.

Some people are taking it all one step further, and even writing books and creating cool content. And while that shouldn’t pressure you to become the next Shakespeare overnight, it may help you look at boredom as a chance to tap into your creative side.

2. Boredom Changes Up Your Routine

When we feel bored, nothing that we would normally do seems interesting anymore. That’s why we seek some kind of change. This can be a really great way to introduce something new to your routine.

All of our routines took a hit this year, and while having a stable routine is great, it can get boring and monotonous pretty quickly. So the next time you feel bored, why not try something new?

Take a walk in a new part of your neighbourhood, read a different genre of novels that you don’t normally read, or try a new activity. Step out of your comfort zone and do something different, without putting too much pressure on yourself.

3. Boredom Makes You A Better Person

This sounds counter-intuitive but it kind of makes sense. When we’re bored, we seek some kind of stimulation to do something, anything so that we can be useful. What better way to be useful than to be useful to someone else?

I’ll give you a personal example: the other day, I was walking aimlessly around my apartment, bored out of my mind. I wanted to do something but I wasn’t sure what would alleviate my boredom.

Then I came across some old mail, and it was a letter asking for support. I googled them up to learn more about this organization and turns out it was an initiative that a friend of a friend was starting. I reached out to connect with them, congratulated them, and offered my support in relation to any mental health initiatives that may be coming up.

Ok, so it may not the same as donating blood or volunteering. But this small example of prosocial behaviour gives you the same idea: boredom can push us to do nice things for others.

4. Boredom Forces You To Slow Down

Perhaps the key feature of boredom is that it’s slow. When we’re bored, time seems to pass by painfully slowly. Staring at the clock only seems to make it worse. Seconds, minutes, hours…all of it becomes meaningless.

But this slow-down isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our world is already pretty fast-paced, even in the midst of a pandemic. So when you’re feeling bored and everything seems kind of sluggish, you may be tempted to find something to do but instead, take advantage of your boredom.

Go for a walk outside or take a break and just chill out. Take the time to check in with how you’re feeling. Check in with your body and mind, without any judgments or any social media. Focus on the present moment.

5. Boredom Boosts Your Mental Health

These things I just mentioned are all products of boredom, and can also lead to better mental health.

Slowing down and mindfully checking in with yourself, tapping into your creative side, helping other people and changing up your routine are all linked to increased mental health. Pretty cool, huh?

Overall, boredom forces us to stop and take a step back. We can choose to spend that time doing something reckless or worry about what we should be doing.

Or, we can choose to just slow down, and take a break. I don’t know about you, but that last option seems pretty good to me.    

Before You Go

If you’ve gotten to the end of this blog post, I’m going to assume you weren’t bored. That, or you did get bored but you’re a loyal reader (I appreciate you!).

Before you go, I want to say one thing: I know that sometimes, being bored can seem scary.

You may have this fear of not doing anything - what happens when suddenly, all you're left with is your thoughts? What do you think about when you can't distract yourself?

Some of us may give our anxious thoughts space to fester, while others may fall into feelings of sadness.

This is a real and valid fear. We live in an age where preoccupying ourselves with something, anything, at all times is the key to staying busy and happy.

But what if it isn’t? What if not doing anything isn’t something we should be afraid of, but something we should look forward to?

Being bored and doing nothing is not something we should fear. We need to trust ourselves enough to be comfortable with our company, including our own thoughts. Allow yourself to daydream, to wander and to do nothing at all.

I hope this post has given you something to think about when it comes to how we perceive boredom.

What are your ''go-to'' things to do when you're bored? Do you find most of them are productive or no?

For some of us boredom has forced us to slow down and reflect on our lives. If you need support managing challenging emotions, feel free to reach out to me or anyone from my awesome team.

You can book a free phone consult at anytime!

Until next time!