Despite its association with negative emotions, boredom can actually inspire you to be more creative and more philanthropic
People will do almost anything to avoid feeling bored. A nurse in Germany actually just confessed to killing 30 patients because he was bored and thought it would be a fun way to show off his resuscitation skills. Yikes! While most of us aren't that extreme—thankfully—we play Candy Crush while waiting in line at the store, we scroll through Instagram at the doctor's office, we catch up on texts at stop lights (don't do that!), we sing in elevators, and we risk dropping our phones in the toilet so we'll have something to do for the few minutes we're in the bathroom. Heck, it may even be why you're reading this article.
And research has found that being bored is associated with a host of bad behaviors: a recent study published in Appetitelinked boredom with binge eating (the scientists said "boredom promoted intake of chocolate," which, duh); research published in Accident Analysis and Preventionshowed a correlation between boredom and speeding; and a report from International Journal of Epidemiology showed that people who are super bored were 37 percent more likely to die than people who figure out something to do with themselves. (Psst... We've got 4 Fat-Burning Plans to Beat Treadmill Boredom.)
But despite boredom's association with negative emotions, it's not the same as depression, nor is it simply putting your brain on pause or meditation. Boredom is its own state of mind and, researchers are discovering, it exists for a reason. And it might even be good for you.
One recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that boredom can lead to creativity and innovation. Researchers took two groups of students, one in which they had induced a state of boredom and the other not, and then gave them two creativity tests. They found that the bored people came up with a far greater number of, and more creative, answers than the group who weren't allowed to let their minds wander. (There are more surprising benefits to being bored too.)
Boredom also inspires us to help other people more, according to a second study done by the University of Limerick in Ireland. Researchers found that bored subjects were more likely to engage in "prosocial" behavior than those who were occupied with a task. This can also translate to helping ourselves, Wijnand van Tilburg, Ph.D., a social psychologist and co-author of the paper explained in the report, by making us think about what is important to us and what really want to be doing.
So what's the difference between people who donate blood when they're bored and those who binge eat? It may be all in how we think about boredom. If we see it as a problem that needs to be fixed or avoided at all costs, we may be more likely to do things detrimental to our well being. But if we instead see it as a positive thing, as a tool to enhance our creativity and drive, then we can use it to our advantage.
Now you know, so go forth...and be bored!