Is it good to be bored (or will it be the death of you)?
Boredom traditionally has a bad reputation. In 2009, a study of 7,524 civil servants found that those with the highest levels of boredom were nearly 40% more likely to have died by the end of the 25-year trial, compared with those who weren’t bored. The bored civil servants were also more prone to rate their health worse and to be less active and have more menial jobs. The authors speculated that boredom and inactivity might drive people to drink more heavily and smoke – activities not related to longevity.
Boredom is often defined as a state of dissatisfaction with the dullness of a situation – usually with a bit of restlessness and fatigue. So it may seem counterintuitive that researchers are suggesting boredom might have benefits, and, indeed, be an evolutionary insurance scheme for making us seek new experiences. A series of studies from the University of Virginia, published in the journal Science in 2014 found that 18 out of 42 students who were left in a room with nothing to do for 15 minutes gave themselves at least one mild shock on the ankle to alleviate the boredom. The authors concluded that people would rather do something unpleasant than nothing.
So whatever happened to daydreaming? A study from the University of Central Lancashire links a period of boredom with heightened creativity immediately afterwards. It is not the most robust study: 40 people copied numbers from a telephone directory for 15 minutes and then had to come up with different uses for a pair of polystyrene cups. Their ideas were rated more creative than those of 40 people who didn’t do the boring task first. Another group, who read the numbers, were even more creative with the cups than those who wrote them out. Dr Sandi Mann, one of the authors, concluded that we should embrace boredom “to enhance our creativity”.