Who doesn’t hate being bored?
In fact, it turns out that we hate boredom so much that a surprising amount of people said they would rather be shocked with electricity than sit there quietly and think.
But thanks to the invention of smartphones, all we need to do to keep ourselves occupied these days is turn our eyes and fingers to our screens.
Tons of people do it. A Gallup study from last year reports the majority of US smartphone owners check their phones at least a few times an hour. (Cell phone addiction even has a clinical name now: “nomophobia”).
Unfortunately for most of us, research suggests that we could be missing out on a lot by turning to our smartphones whenever we feel the pangs of boredom.
Here’s why it might be a good idea to unplug and get back to being bored for a while:
Boredom can make you more creative
- Flickr / Wendy Cope
Researchers believe that being bored can lead to some of our most original thoughts.
Duringa study by UK psychologist Sandi Mann, researchers gave subjects various boring tasks to complete and then asked them to use their creative thinking. The subjects who had the most boring task – reading the phone book – came up with the most interesting uses for plastic cups, which is a standard test of divergent thinking.
Mann says that boredom encourages people’s minds to wander, leading them to more associative and creative ways of thinking.
It lets you know when something is amiss
As researcher and philosophy professor Andreas Elpidorou explainsin a psychology journal articlethat cites numerous studies, boredom “acts as a regulatory state that keeps one in line with one’s projects.
“In the absence of boredom, one would remain trapped in unfulfilling situations, and miss out on many emotionally, cognitively, and socially rewarding experiences. Boredom is both a warning that we are not doing what we want to be doing and a ‘push’ that motivates us to switch goals and projects,” he writes.
It makes you more goal-oriented
When people’s minds wander and they’re not thinking about what’s going on around them, they’re more likely to think about the future,European and American researchers found.
In a process known as “autobiographical planning,” people most frequently plan and anticipate their future goals while daydreaming.
It could help make you more productive
- Shutterstock / dotshock
Scientists at Bar-Ilan Universityrecently discoveredthat daydreaming also has a positive effect on task performance.
By stimulating a region of the brain responsible for both “thought controlling” mechanisms and “thought freeing” activity – thereby increasing mind-wandering behavior – researchers found that daydreaming doesn’t harm one’s ability to succeed at an appointed task, but rather helps it.
It can make you a better person
Researchers in Ireland believethat boredom can lead us to do altruistic things.
In their studies they found that when we’re bored, we lack perceived meaning in our activities and circumstances. This, they say, triggers us to search elsewhere to re-establish our self-meaning.
The researchers found that boredom made people more likely to engage in prosocial behaviors like donating to charity and signing up for blood donations to help re-establish feelings of self-meaning.
It could be essential to our happiness
- Flickr / N i c o l a
Though esteemed philosopher Bertrand Russell mused onthe makings of a happy lifenearly 90 years ago, his observations about the essential quality of our capacity for boredom seems just as apt today as ever:
“A life too full of excitement is an exhausting life, in which continually stronger stimuli are needed to give the thrill that has come to be thought an essential part of pleasure.
“A person accustomed to too much excitement is like a person with a morbid craving for pepper, who comes last to be unable even to taste a quantity of pepper which would cause anyone else to choke. There is an element of boredom which is inseparable from the avoidance of too much excitement, and too much excitement not only undermines the health, but dulls the palate for every kind of pleasure, substituting titillations for profound organic satisfactions, cleverness for wisdom, and jagged surprises for beauty.
“I do not want to push to extremes the objection to excitement. A certain amount of it is wholesome, but, like almost everything else, the matter is quantitative. Too little may produce morbid cravings, too much will produce exhaustion. A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is one of the things that ought to be taught to the young.”
It could save your life
- Flickr/Candida Performa
How many times have you crossed the street with your eyes glued to your phone, not your surroundings?
This has become such a problem that some legislators in New Jersey want to make it a punishable offense.
In March, New Jersey Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt introduced legislation that would fine pedestrians $50 for using a handheld phone or texting while crossing the street and possibly send them to jail for 15 days, the Washington Post reports.
“Distracted pedestrians, like distracted drivers, present a potential danger to themselves and drivers on the road,” Lampitt said in a statement.
The bill comes on the heels of recent reports linking cell phone use to pedestrian versus car collisions and resulting injuries and deaths, a pretty compelling reason to keep your phone in your pocket when walking down the street just isn’t entertaining enough for you.