Researchers analyzed questionnaires completed between 1985 and 1988 by more than 7,500 London civil servants. The civil servants were asked if they had felt bored at work during the previous month. The researchers then tracked down how many of the participants had died by April 2009.Those who reported they had been very bored were two and a half times more likely to die of a heart problem than those who hadn't reported being bored.
Virtually everyone gets bored from time to time, most often because we’re faced with nothing to do, or forced to do something we’d rather not. As long as your boredom is fleeting, it’s nothing to worry about.
But if boredom becomes a regular part of your existence, one that threatens to make your life dull and depressing, it’s time to take action to change it. Otherwise, this boredom, which Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel identified as “pathological” boredom back in the 1950s, can slowly suck the life right out of you … literally.
The Risks of Boredom … and Why Some People are More Bored Than Others
Fenichel believed pathological boredom resulted from your drives and desires being repressed, which in turn leads to aimlessness, among other risks.
Psychologist Stephen Vodanovich of the University of West Florida told Scientific American that research from the past two decades shows boredom increases your risk of:
Drug and alcohol addiction
Anger and aggressive behavior
Lack of interpersonal skills
Performing poorly at work and school
Likewise, this recent study from University College London researchers found that people who were bored were 2.5 times more likely to die of a heart problem than those who were not.
Rather than blaming the boredom in and of itself, it’s likely being bored leads to other unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as smoking, drinking, or eating junk food, or is associated with depression or other psychological problems.
Yet, while everyone experiences dull moments here and there, some people are more prone to boredom than others. The Boredom Proneness Scale, developed in 1986 by psychologist Norman Sundberg, even points to boredom as a personality trait of sorts, one that can be measured by answering the 28-question survey.
Research by Vodanovich and colleagues suggests that people who score highly on the external stimulation portions of the BPS have a greater need for excitement in their lives in order to stay stimulated. But there is another variable too, aside from your varying need for external stimulation, and that is your ability to generate your own stimulation.
Vodanovich found in his analysis of the BPS that people who are creative and have many hobbies and interests are less likely to be bored -- likely because they’re able to keep themselves occupied from the inside out.
As writer Gerald Brenan said:
“Everyone is a bore to someone. That is unimportant. The thing to avoid is being a bore to oneself.”
And that is really the key.
Live Your Life with Passion
I firmly believe that this is one of the central keys to avoiding boredom. You simply need to do some serious self-analysis and know what authentically makes your heart race.
The number one key to success, excitement and feeling fulfilled is doing something you just love to do.
It’s the passion for immersing yourself in the subject, whatever it (or they) may be, and never getting tired or bored with learning more about it that keeps your life interesting. This is also your key to personal happiness. Happiness is that which makes you jump out of bed in the morning with eager anticipation to start your day -- to engage passionately in your chosen work.
But how do you get there?
The first step is to identify that activity, or group of them, and then start focusing your mind around that so you can structure your life to do more of it. Education, whether in the form of reading books, taking a college course, networking with like-minded individuals or going to night school to finish an entire degree, will likely be part of this process.
Personally, my happiness is strongly tied to my mission to catalyze the change of the fatally flawed health paradigm. This is what makes me jump out of bed each morning, and it is the driving force that allows me to truly enjoy the many hours of my “work” weeks.
It is sad to say, but some people are actually bored when they have free time because they’re not sure what to do to make themselves feel entertained. If you fall into this group, and need some suggestions to stay occupied, try:
Exercising: It will boost both your mood and energy levels.
Networking with interesting people: The conversations alone will keep your mind fed for days!
Learning a new hobby: Have you always wanted to paint, garden, tutor or play the piano? Carpe Diem!
Doing something you want to do: Too often we’re bogged down with tasks we have to do, rather than those we want to. So if you’re feeling bored, take that as a sign that it’s time to do those things you’ve been pining away for (Write a novel? Remodel your bathroom? Learn Portuguese? The possibilities are endless … and exciting!)
I strongly believe, though, that one of your best strategies to nipping boredom, and its potential health risks, in the bud is to invest in some serious reflection time to identify what you are truly passionate about.
If you discover that you are not already doing that at work then seek to change your circumstances quickly so you can become involved in your passion as much as possible.
What you don’t want is to one day find yourself lying on your death bed and realize you have regrets; that you didn't give every bit of energy you had to achieving the really important goals you had in life.
You will not find me in that position, and I hope I won't find you there either.