In today’s ultra-busy world, boredom is the last thing that we would consider as good for us. It seems like everything around us is built to eradicate boredom. The current COVID-19 predicament we find ourselves in is proof of this. Despite the chance to be utterly un-busy, we are constantly bombarded with ways to yet again combat the other "virus": boredom. From DIY at home videos to indoor exercising to getting through that to-do list we never finished, there is always an alternative to being bored. Rarely do we see advice that says we should in fact be bored, just for a minute. Don't get me wrong, I love doing all the above but I'm also aware that sometimes it comes as pressure to keep up with a fast-paced world. Even doing nothing now means you are doing yoga or something that is synonymous with being mindful. However, research shows that there is nothing more mindful than allowing ourselves to be bored.
So, why are we so afraid of boredom? Maybe, it is because it is one of the most confrontational things we can do. It is about facing yourself and tuning in to your inner monologue. What if that conversation is boring you may ask? I don't know, what if it is? It's not always pleasant but necessary. We are all guilty of this constant need to do something, me included but lately, I’ve contemplated making boredom a new companion. Welcoming the feeling like a long lost friend, just to hear what it has to say to me. This led me to dig into research about boredom and the benefits that come with it. Turns out being bored is an important if not essential state of being for humans.
Here are 5 reasons we should all give in to boredom just once in a while.
1. Boredom = original thinking = creativity
Boredom often leads to our minds wandering. Mind-wandering is a spontaneous and self-generated behaviour believed to be important for various mental functions such as creativity and future planning. Once we are past that giddy feeling of “I have to do something” and decide in fact to do nothing instead, our minds will begin to trail off. It may seem mindless at first but slowly we start to think deeper and have independent thoughts. Independent thoughts are self-generated thoughts with no external triggers, they are purely ours. This leads to more associative and creative ways of thinking, that in turn allows creativity. Whether it’s a story we start to tell ourselves or asking questions or visually imagining something. Our thinking becomes unique and exceptionally ours.
2. Boredom is motivation
Being bored is a perfect mindful moment to assess the present. When you are able to stop all the distractions and think about where you are now, you allow your mind to take stock and analyse. You can analyse both what you love about your present and how to enhance that in the future through creative thinking, or reassess and transform undesirable behaviours or circumstances into something new in the future. It’s like pressing the pause button so that when you press play again you can go on and act with intention. This leads to increased motivation for the future, a desire to better. It seems quite simple but what we don't realise today is that being constantly distracted means moments of boredom are rare and such opportunities to self-assess even rarer. This is an underlying reason for anxiety increase in our society: the lack of time to reassess our lives until we reach a breaking point. What if letting boredom in helps reduce our anxiety by allowing us to observe our lives on a regular basis?
3. Boredom can make you more productive
This happens mainly thanks to daydreaming. Daydreaming is said to have a positive effect on task performance. Scientists at Bar-Ilan University discovered that daydreaming does not necessarily hinder task performance but instead can enhance it by stimulating a region of the brain responsible for “thought controlling” mechanism and “thought freeing activity”. In other words, boredom is freedom for your mind, and we all know our minds need the freedom to wander for itself without always being forced into distractions or pre-established thoughts.
4. Boredom can contribute to your happiness
British philosopher Bertrand Russell puts this best:
"A life too full of excitement is an exhausting life, in which continually stronger stimuli are needed to give the thrill that has come to be thought an essential part of pleasure.”
"I do not want to push to extremes the objection to excitement. A certain amount of it is wholesome, but, like almost everything else, the matter is quantitative. Too little may produce morbid cravings, too much will produce exhaustion. A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is one of the things that ought to be taught to the young."
Life is more than a series of exciting events, sometimes joy comes in the downs, the calm, the non-excitement of being bored. Most importantly, boredom allows for the next moment of excitement to be even more enjoyable.
5. Boredom doesn't last forever
Last but not least boredom is a passing state. Like many feelings, the best way to get through it is to feel it, then let it pass. The difference here is that you allow it to take over for a while so you can rest, think, reflect and come up with new ways to see life and approach it differently. In a society that “sells” us the art of mindfulness, boredom is an easy and free way to access mindfulness. The point is not to be bored forever, in fact, your mind will find creative ways to push you out of the state of boredom. However, before that happens, boredom could lead to a brilliant idea or simply a well-rested mind ready to take on an at times over-stimulating world.