The Experience of Boredom
We all experience boredom from time to time. Perhaps, we choose to be bored. However, most of the time, boredom is forced upon us as we attend to some task that is required. We visit in-laws, attend conferences, or bad weather forces us to stay indoors. The evidence is clear–boredom impacts mental health.
Boredom is common to all. An occasional day of nothingness may be healthy, allowing a weary mind and body to recover from constant demands. However, a large portion of the research on boredom associates it with “negative psychological, social, academic, occupational and interpersonal problems” (Dursun, 2016).
Boredom is a state of being weary and restless through lack of interest.
T. Franklin Murphy suggested that boredom in recovery contributes to relapse. He warned that the fast and furious life of addiction doles the joys of ordinary homeostatic existence. “The habitual busyness (of addiction), however, creates a nasty surprise in recovery—boredom” (2019).
Types of Boredom
There are five types of boredom: indifferent, calibrating, searching, reactant, and apathetic (Sledge, 2017).
Indifferent boredom is accompanied by a sense of calm acceptance. The individual may not find boredom unpleasant. Indifferent boredom may be associated with certain personality styles that are less driven for arousal.
Calibrating boredom is the unpleasant sense of wanting do something, but not able to identify anything appealing to do. Often, the individual experiencing calibrating boredom has sufficient energy and drive to act, just they do not have an appealing avenue to direct their energies.
Searching boredom is much like calibrating boredom, except the person’s unpleasant feelings drive a proactive search to appease the restlessness of boredom. Often, they defend against boredom by endless busyness.
Reactant boredom is associated with anger and frustration. Dr. Hannah Rose wrote, “You twitch and squirm, feel tense and are desperately seeking an escape route. It is the most unpleasant type of boredom” (2021).
Apathetic is the most recently added type of boredom. This type of boredom is especially impacts wellness because the helplessness aspect of apathy is associated with depression. Apathetic boredom is the experience of boredom, yet produces no motivation to escape the unpleasantness.
Does Boredom Impact Wellness?
Nicholaus P. Brosowsky and his colleagues asked this question. They were interested in how different people approached social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. To answer this question, they explored how the tendency to engage in everyday creative pursuits would protect against poor well-being normally caused by isolation.
They found that “people who engaged more in everyday creative activities also reported higher levels of self-esteem, optimism, and positive effect.” They continue, “those who pursued fewer creative outlets had higher levels of depression and anxiety, were higher in boredom proneness, and reported experiencing more negative affect” (2022).
Research has associated boredom with a nasty grouping of problems. Recent findings suggest a connection between boredom and depression, anxiety, obsessions, interpersonal sensitivity, paranoia, self-consciousness, negative self-awareness, negative personality traits, juvenile delinquency, drug use, sensation seeking, aggression, unsafe driving behavior, impulsiveness, procrastination, decreased academic performance, truancy, drop out, job dissatisfaction, relationship dissatisfaction, loneliness, dissatisfaction with life, and even death (Dursun, 2016).
While the list is impressive, we must resist the urge to assume that boredom is the cause of these associations. If boredom is just a symptom, adding novelty to our lives, curing the boredom, may not resolve the associated disease.
However, researchers have discovered that an opposite state of boredom, such as awe has wellness benefits. Summer Allen wrote, “A growing body of research suggests that experiencing awe may lead to a wide range of benefits, from happiness and health to perhaps more unexpected benefits such as generosity, humility, and critical thinking” (2018).
Based on research, I would venture to propose that stimulation of our minds has some curative and growth properties within certain levels. Both over and under stimulation may be harmful, either in the moment, to our futures, or both. Boredom impacts mental health.
We must dismiss the automatic biased associations of boredom and laziness. There much involved than simple choice. We tend to assign self-imposed traits such as laziness to constructs such as boredom and dismiss individuals as creators of their own behavior.
Trait disposition and Boredom are intimately connected. Research over the last several decades indicate that boredom is “a complex, multidimensional, and comprehensive phenomenon” (Dursun, 2016).
Boredom proneness refers to “a persistent personality trait reflecting how easy an individual is apt to feel bored” (Bai, et al., 2021). A sense of boredom emerges when the environment fails to provide sufficient stimuli. Lack of stimuli leads to the generation of negative emotion, signalling to the person to do something to create arousal.
When these signals to act are ignored, or action not possible, the negative affect states may lead to depression, anxiety, loneliness, and lower subjective well-being. Basically, we desire a homeostatic balance. We enjoy emotional arousal within a desirable window, with neither to much or to little arousal. As a result, extremes such as the low arousal of boredom, impacts mental health.
This process of boredom, action, and feeling affects is dynamic. We adapt to novel experiences. They quickly become ordinary, requiring new novelty to achieve the same sense of arousal. All these elements are subjective to the individual. I find a book on twentieth century psychology very stimulating, but for others the dryness and century old prose may create a nauseating case of boredom. An introvert may find plenty of stimulation during isolation while the extrovert may suffer from extreme boredom.
Boredom Motivates Healthy and Unhealthy Action
While boredom signals a need for arousal, it doesn’t designate how to achieve the goal. The individual, drawing from personal history, available options, and cultural norms, determines which behavior to employ to escape the frustration of their boredom. While I presented this as a cognitive process, typically it is unconscious.
Behaviors, then, in a reciprocal deterministic manner, contribute to growth or decay. If boredom than inspires healthy behaviors, then one could conjecture that boredom, in this case, contributes to well-being.
Frank A. Cusimano discovered in his research that plenty of support exists suggesting that “boredom increases our creativity and increasing our creativity in our work and in our life improves our satisfaction, our performance and prevents that feeling of burnout” (Thrive).
In the end, Boredom neither creates or destroys wellness; it depends on what we do in response to boredom. Complex factors of personality traits, resources available, social environments, and learned behaviors significantly determines our response. If we can, direct our response to boredom to life enhancing practices, then boredom may improve the quality of our lives.
Allen, Summer (2018). Eight Reasons Why Awe Makes Your Life Better. Greater Good Magazine. Published 9-26-2018. Accessed 11-6-2022.
Bai, J., Mo, K., Peng, Y., Hao, W., Qu, Y., Lei, X., & Yang, Y. (2021). The Relationship Between the Use of Mobile Social Media and Subjective Well-Being: The Mediating Effect of Boredom Proneness. Frontiers in Psychology, 11.
Brosowsky, N., Barr, N., Mugon, J., Scholer, A., Seli, P., & Danckert, J. (2022). Creativity, Boredom Proneness and Well-Being in the Pandemic. Behavioral Sciences, 12(3).
Cusimano, Frank A. (unknown). Why being bored increases your well-being. Thrive. Accessed 11-6-2022.
DURSUN, P., & , (2016). On The Nature of Boredom. Mediterranean Journal of Humanities.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2019). Boredom in Recovery. Psychology Fanatic. Published 111-14-2019. Accessed 11-5-2022.
Rose, Hannah (2021). The boredom paradox: how to turn boredom to your advantage. Ness Labs. Published 11-23-2021. Accessed 11-6-2022.
Sledge, G.J. (2017). The Benefits of Boredom. Oncology Times, 39(7).