Whoever thought that boredom can be beneficial? Now, you must be thinking, in today’s world where you we have all sorts of gizmos and gadgets to keep us distracted(or mistakenly “productive”) who would resort to being bored, just for the sake of being bored? This is exactly where I’d like to add what Bertrand Russell, one of history’s greatest writers and philosophers says in the book, The Conquest for Happiness.
“A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a nation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow process of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers as though they were cut flowers in a vase.”
Clearly, Russell believed that a certain amount of boredom is essential to live a happy life. But in the quote above, he also points out how a generation that “fears” boredom (or cannot endure) it will be a generation of “little men”. It is that slow process of nature, as he puts it that is essential to be felt from time to time and learn how to truly live our lives.
To further elaborate this point, here are six surprising science backed benefits of boredom and the many reasons we would agree with the British philosopher.
6 Surprising Benefits of Boredom
1) Boredom leads to creativity:
Who would have thought of researching on how boredom benefits our minds. Well, plenty of scientists and psychologists did only to find that the daily tedium of tasks is actually beneficial for our brains. So, when you’re sitting in that boring meeting,riding in a bus, you can actually start having unique and creative thoughts because of the fact it gives us time to daydream.
2) Boredom encourages the pursuit of new goals:
Have you ever had that moment when you were so bored, you had to think about what you really want from life. A new goal or pursuit in life might have popped up, perhaps something that you want to replace with your current activities. Believe it or not, researchers from the department of psychology from Texas A&M University found that, “boredom increases opportunities to attain social, cognitive, emotional and experiential stimulation that could have been missed”. So, these “missed opportunities” are ideas for new goals and alternatives in life.
3) Being bored leads to a great mental workout:
Neuroscience finds that when we are idle, we are bored. And when we are bored our brains are more active. This is evidently due to the fact that we are not forcing our brains to engage in any activity and be distracted (i.e. the way we do when we are watching tv, playing a game, or reading a book). This inevitably results in a need to be engaged through our thought processes (an active brain). As we all should know, the brain is a muscle. And just like any other muscle that needs to be continuously active to be built, the brain muscle’s occasional “activity” while bored leads to the perfect mental exercise. So, when your brain starts whirring at top speed while you’re bored, you’re actually giving your brain a mental workout!
4) Boredom allows you to see things you never noticed before:
Let’s start with a small example. How many times have you sat idle, perhaps waiting for friend to drop by so you can go out, and found something you had never seen before? It could be a bunch of cobwebs stuck to the wall, or something inside the sofa you had lost months ago, or even the intricate design on the wooden table.
This is exactly how boredom allows us to focus on more than just the surface of things. Boredom gives allows us to see things that were always in plain sight, but we had always missed. Now, how is that beneficial? Think about all of the ways those things you’ve always ignored (a missing sock, a dirty house, a fixture required, or even someone’s new haircut) add details to our lives and remind us of things we have missed or ignored for far too long.
5) Boredom allows us to revel in natural entertainment rather than fixate on something artificial:
I admire Jim Nelson’s observation on Russell’s quote mentioned above. He starts out by giving an example of his friend who claims that he is never bored. At first, he says that he wouldn’t believe him, thinking of the idea as “impossible”. I mean how can someone never be bored, right?
However, after being inspired by an audio book which mentions Russell’s quote and after a thorough analysis he finally states, “Those who refuse to be bored by seeking to be entertained eventually find only the trivialities of entertainment, in contrast to the occasional tedium of reality, to be momentarily amusing. And when we cease to be nourished by reality — the real world of spiritual discipline, scientific discovery, the arts, the satisfaction of labor — in favor of reality television, we grow ever smaller, and possibly cease to be human in any normal sense of the word”. In other words, he believes that all real and natural forms of entertainment that we engage in to kill boredom lead us to amazing scientific discoveries, an observation of the arts our spiritual selves and other, more constructive, activities. However, if we choose to be entertained through artificial means (i.e. reality television) it shrinks us as intelligent human beings.
6) Boredom leads us to reconnect with people around us:
Now that talkative Sally sitting behind your work table may not be the best example of a person to connect with. However, she is certainly someone you may turn to when you’re bored. What about when you’re at home? Something as simple as eating at the dinner table with nothing to do other than munch on our food could lead us to start a new conversation on how our day went. In order to cut the silence, we choose to start conversing and keeping our minds busy with something more than just menial munching. The same thing could happen when we’re out at a park with a stranger on a bench or in our front lawn with someone family member next to us. Thus, boredom also points us towards the opportunity to connect with people and the society, allowing us to reconnect, build relationships, and perhaps learn something new.
The Takeaway—Boredom is Beneficial:
Boredom is not really as bad as we may think. In the crazy-busy times we live in, we have forgotten what it’s like to be truly bored and revel in reality. We have also forgotten what it’s like to daydream and conceptualize creative ideas. We have become, as Russell had put it, “small men”.
For all of the six reasons mentioned above, we need to embrace boredom once again. This doesn’t mean that we let it prevail and take over our lives (chronic boredom). It only means that we permit that occasional “tedium of reality” to take over and instead of trying to eradicate it with artificial entertainment, indulge in it until we have a new perspective, way, or thought for life. This will allow us to revive our human selves—and perhaps even become the next generation of bored Newtons.
Photo credit: jinterwas via flickr