Why boredom is actually good for us

Published on Mon Apr 30 2018 in Lifestyle

We’ve all had experiences that were boring. Waiting at the train station, sitting in the doctor’s office, maybe even a conversation about a dull topic… Boredom is a part of life, but it’s not an experience most people seek out. If anything, we often do all we can to keep from getting bored.

However, boredom may actually be good for our mental health. And by trying to remove it from our daily lives, we may be killing our creativity at the same time.

How we view boredom

For many people, being bored is something to be avoided at all costs. This isn’t surprising. Time seems to move more slowly when we’re not entertained, which can be an uncomfortable feeling. Boredom also doesn’t seem to serve a purpose the way other emotions do. It may feel like a placeholder for another, more important state of mind that we haven’t yet reached.

Then there are the numerous studies that focus on possible downsides of boredom: Those who are easily bored tend to become quickly frustrated in challenging situations.1 It’s been associated with overeating, anxiety and depression.2 It might increase the risk of making mistakes at work,2 or may even cause drug and alcohol abuse.3

Between the discomfort and all this negative research, it’s no wonder we’re so keen to completely banish boredom from our daily lives!

Boredom and smartphones

The arrival of the smartphone changed our relationship with boredom. You may have even noticed this in your daily routine. Smartphone owners (or anyone with an internet connected laptop or tablet) have the world at their fingertips. Text messaging, social media apps, e-readers, music, streaming video and podcasts mean you never have to be bored if you don’t want to.

As a result, many of us rarely let our minds wander anymore. Absentmindedly reaching for your smartphone during downtime might now be second nature. This might be whilst queueing at the shops, waiting at the doctor’s office, sitting on the bus or lying in bed at night. Parents might be quick to fill their child’s day with stimulation, meaning our dependence on non-stop activity is starting at a very young age.

This desire to be constantly entertained isn’t limited to younger people either. Research in 2015 found that 45 per cent of New Zealanders aged 55 and older own or have access to a smartphone, and almost 80 per cent of them reported using it every day.4 Popular smartphone activities for people over 55 included accessing news and weather apps, using social media and playing games.

The benefits of being bored

But by focusing on the bad side of boredom, are we ignoring possible positives? What might our brains be missing out on when they aren’t allowed to wander freely? Researchers are taking a closer look at boredom, with some interesting results.

A major benefit to boredom is that it can help spark creativity. One study5 asked participants to read from the phonebook for a set amount of time, then list as many uses as possible for two paper cups. Those who completed the boring task came up with more creative and inventive uses for the cups than participants who were asked to do a more stimulating task beforehand. It seems that boredom gives our brains time to make connections we might not otherwise make, boosting our creativity and encouraging new ideas.

This probably makes sense to anyone who’s had a great idea whilst taking a shower. The monotonous routine of washing up doesn’t take much thought. Our brains are able to focus on other things, including thinking up creative solutions to problems.

Boredom can also let us to reflect on past experiences and make plans for the future. This type of daydreaming can help us develop a stronger sense of who we are as individuals.6 It may also help us strengthen our relationships with others by looking at situations from different points of view or imagining possible outcomes to situations. 

In fact, boredom may be part of heathy brain function. Dementia patients lose the ability to not only remember past events, but to imagine the future as well.6 They are essentially unable to daydream, relying on what’s happening around them to inform their thoughts and actions. Over time they may lose their sense of who they are as a person and the ability to perform simple tasks that require planning into the future.

Of course, these benefits may be completely missed if we’re filling every minute of the day with entertainment.

Time to get bored

So how can we retrain our brains to accept a little more boredom? It may take time to adjust, but small changes to your routine can help your brain start to crave less stimulation.

  • Don’t touch your phone – Next time you reach for your phone, ask yourself if you really need to use it. If you’re just looking for a way to pass the time, do something else instead. Start a chore that requires little thought (washing the dishes is a good one!), take a walk or simply sit quietly with your thoughts.
  • Delete an addictive app – Do you have a go-to game or social media account that you know you spend too much time using? Remove the temptation to waste your idle time by deleting it from your phone or tablet. Note how you feel one hour, one day and one week later. Chances are you won’t even miss it.
  • Set limits – There’s nothing wrong with spending some free time scrolling through social media, reading the news or catching up on a favourite TV show. But how often does a ‘quick check’ turn into a much longer waste of time? Set limits for how long you’ll spend on entertainment, such as no more than 10 minutes on Facebook after dinner or watching just one hour of television each night.
  • Schedule quiet time – You may find plenty of small moments throughout the day to let your mind wander (queuing at the shops, riding the bus, whilst cooking dinner). However, you may benefit even more by setting aside a bigger block of time dedicated to doing absolutely nothing. This can be a long bath on the weekend, a morning walk or a half hour lying down before bed.

With a little luck, you’ll start to feel less uncomfortable being bored. And who knows—you may even solve a tough work problem, strengthen a connection with a family member or come up with a creative new idea!

There are hundreds of ways to help improve your personal wellbeing! Try these tips for reducing stress, or discover what’s keeping you awake at night.


1. Fast Company, The Science Behind How Boredom Benefits Creative Thought
2. The Guardian, Is boredom bad for your health?
3. Scientific American, Why Boredom Is Anything but Boring
4. Research New Zealand, A report on a survey of New Zealanders’ use of smartphones and other mobile communication devices 2015
5. WNYC Studios – Note to Self, The Case for Boredom
6. The Conversation, Daydream believer: why your brain is wired to wander



About Author: Momentum Life is a leading provider of Life insurance and Funeral insurance in New Zealand.

TAGS: wellbeing, mental health,

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