How boredom kills us—in body, mind and spirit—and what to do about it
A podcast on the tedium of boredom produced by Public Radio International delves into the subject of boredom in a decidedly un-boring, substantial way. Let’s explore the piece, along with related compelling research, to see how being “bored to death” isn’t just a euphemism. And discuss what to do about it.
How boredom can destroy us:
• It’s easy to think of boredom as a lack of stress and stimulation. Yet in a study at the University of Waterloo, researchers showed that boredom is actually a state of stress — levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in fact rose after boredom was induced. (Who knew?!)
• We sometimes use the expression “I’m bored to death,” whether in a meeting or not. It’s meant to be an overstatement, but in 2010, researchers at University College London studied questionnaires completed by 7,524 civil servants in the late 1980s who were between the ages of 35 to 55. Those who noted higher degrees of boredom were more likely to have died upon a follow-up than those who had not reported feeling bored.
• Furthermore, boredom is damaging to our integrity — it crushes our souls as we feel we’re not contributing up to our potential. “Boredom tells us that our potentials are not being acted upon or our ability to connect with the world is being thwarted in some way,” according to Dr. John Eastwood, associate professor of psychology at York University.
• The foundation for poor heath in adults is laid in sedentary, bored children, an idea supported in part with research by Dr. Travis Saunders, Assistant Professor in Applied Human Science at the University of Prince Edward Island.
• Why are we so drawn to tablet, computer and phone screens–especially when meetings are not engaging us? Why do we seek this continual flow of stimulation? Given their flashing, bright nature, screens hack the part of the brain that craves novelty. Screens, like dancing campfire flames and flickering water, create a craving for newness. We’re lulled into thinking there’s always something new (read: better!) available as we gaze at them. Try explaining this to your companion when your phone rings over dinner….
• Are you prone to addictions? According to AlcoholRehab.com, addictions are commonly triggered when we’re bored.
Remedies that alleviate boredom:
• Viewing boredom as a voice of conscience, as it tells us how we’re living our lives. If life feels meaningless, it’s up to us to create more meaning and wonder–in and beyond our meetings. It’s a literal wake-up call!
• We often think our sources of happiness rest outside ourselves, around the next bend, with another person, with more of something, or less of something else. Instead, try living by the wisdom of author Byron Katie: “Keep coming home to yourself. You’re the one you’ve been waiting for.”
• Journaling til you “land” on what makes your heart sing and your brain dance. And then doing more of these activities. Sounds simple, but intentionally following our passions and exploring new, deeply fulfilling activities are ways to heighten engagement, authentically.
• When you’re not at work, try walking without a real destination in an effort to foster more curiosity and happy surprise, even in seemingly mundane places.
• We hear plenty about the value of meditating. While meditating may seem inherently boring, if you do it even occasionally, you’ll feel more at ease with quietude, with your own thoughts, and with your deepest longings. Indeed, you may feel less bored and more excited by whatever comes your way.
What’s YOUR favorite antidote to boredom?