It has been two weeks since the enforcement of movement control order (MCO). How is everybody holding up? From conversations, I had with some of my students, friends, and even my mom, almost everyone exclusively responded, “I’m BORED”. Traditionally, boredom gets a bad rap, in fact, numerous studies have shown that it is associated with drug addiction and alcoholism (Lee, Neighbors, & Woods, 2007; LePera, 2011), compulsive gambling (Mercer & Eastwood, 2010), eating disorders (Quinton & Wagner, 2005), depression (Mercer-Lynn et al., 2013), and poor grades (Mikulas & Vodanovich, 1993).
So, what is boredom? (please don’t get bored) Professor John Eastwood and his colleagues at York University in Canada have been researching boredom for over a decade. They define it as the unpleasant feelings that occur when we are not able to successfully engage attention with internal (e.g., thoughts or feelings) or external (e.g., environmental stimuli) information required for participating in satisfying activity, are focused on the fact that we are not able to engage attention and participate in satisfying activity, and attribute the cause of our aversive state to the environment (Eastwood et al., 2012). In other words, your attention is not engaged on something either inside or outside of your head, and you become restless which signifies a search for something, but you don’t know what.
Eastwood and his colleagues (2007) further added that our natural tendency to seek outside stimulations and distractions when we’re bored is the wrong solution. Instead, they suggest treating boredom as an opportunity to discover ourselves. However, our typical impulse when feeling bored is to fight it with frenetic activity and stimulation. I am for one is guilty of that. As boredom is such an unpleasant feeling, naturally you just want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. So usually we would respond to it by surfing the Internet, watching a movie, scrolling up and down of Instagram or like me, baking. Surely all of these will alleviate boredom, but tragically, when the movie ends, when there’s eggs shortage, you’re faced with a greater gaping need. Which means, in the long run, this will leave us more susceptible to future episodes of boredom.
rather than fighting it, acknowledge that you’re feeling bored and embrace it.
Try to reflect on what you would really want at this moment. What are some of
your abilities that are not being used? Look for activities where you’re going
to be deeply engaged, rather than just entertained. Just like pain, it is there
to signify that we may have a problem. If someone has
blisters from wearing ill-fitting shoes, that might motivate them to get new shoes. Similarly, if we listen to boredom and respond appropriately, it can help us to experience a balanced and more fulfilling life. As demonstrated by several studies, boredom can enable creativity and problem-solving as it allows the mind to wander and daydream. Mann and Cadman (2014) showed that workers given a very boring routine task to do were much more creative immediately afterwards than workers who were not bored. This makes sense because they let their mind wander rather than quickly occupy themselves by watching a Youtube or reading tweets. Boredom also serves to encourage people to seek new goals and experiences, help to steer people away from little rewarding activity towards a more rewarding activity that facilitates the pursuit of high-value goals (Van Tilburg & Igou, 2012, 2016; Elpidorou, 2018). So next time, when you’re feeling bored, let your mind wander, who knows, you might come up with some cool innovation (hint: someone, please invent reusable face mask, they’re now costing an arm and a leg).
Nabilah Razali, PhD
Eastwood, J. D., Frischen, A., Fenske, M. J., & Smilek, D. (2012). The unengaged mind defining boredom in terms of attention. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 482-495.
Eastwood, J. D., Cavaliere, C., Fahlman, S. A., & Eastwood, A. E. (2007). A desire for desires: Boredom and its relation to alexithymia. Personality and Individual Differences, 42, 1035–1045.
Elpidorou, A. (2018). The good of boredom. Philosophical Psychology, 31(3), 323-351.
Lee, C. M., Neighbors, C., & Woods, B. A. (2007). Marijuana motives: Young adults’ reasons for using marijuana. Addictive Behaviors, 32, 1384–1394.
LePera, N. (2011). Relationships between boredom proneness, mindfulness, anxiety, depression, and substance use. New School Psychology Bulletin, 8, 15–25
Lipps, T. (1903). Leitfaden der Psychologie [Manual of psychology]. Leipzig, Germany: Wilhelm Engelman Verlag.
Mann, S., & Cadman, R. (2014). Does being bored make us more creative?. Creativity Research Journal, 26(2), 165-173.
Mercer, K. B., & Eastwood, J. D. (2010). Is boredom associated with problem gambling behaviour? It depends on what you mean by “boredom.” International Gambling Studies, 10, 91–104.
Mikulas, W. L., & Vodanovich, S. J. (1993). The essence of boredom. Psychological Record, 43 (1), 3- 12.
Quinton, S., & Wagner, H. L. (2005). Alexithymia, ambivalence over emotional expression, and eating attitudes. Personality and Individual Differences, 38(5), 1163–1173.
Van Tilburg, W. A., & Igou, E. R. (2012). On boredom: Lack of
challenge and meaning as distinct boredom experiences. Motivation and Emotion, 36, 181–194.
Van Tilburg, W. A., & Igou, E. R. (2016). Can boredom help? Increased prosocial intentions in response to boredom. Self and Identity, 16, 82–96.