This is your Brain on Boring

A recent story tells about a 19 year old Toronto woman robbing a local grocery store at approximately 2pm. She shop-lifted and was followed outside by security guards. When they brought her back for questioning, she wielded a knife and escaped. Video caught the young woman on tape. Here is the picture circulated to the public.

CP24 Toronto News Sep 2017

What struck me about this picture was the lettering on her t-shirt. BORING. Robbing a grocery store in the middle of the afternoon is anything but boring. What if boredom was a factor in her decision to rob the store? Who commits a robbery simply out of boredom? In that case the saying “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” ring true in an odd and violent sort of way.

Science has something to say about it. Psychological studies in Ireland have shown that bored subjects were more likely to show aggressive behavior. When the subjects were asked to recommend a jail sentence for a hypothetical criminal, the bored subjects were harsher in the sentencing than the non-bored participants.

Psychologist John Eastwood, PhD, of York University in Toronto and a group of his students have come up with a definition of boredom.

Boredom is best described in terms of attention. A bored person doesn’t just have nothing to do. He or she wants to be stimulated, but is unable, for whatever reason, to connect with his or her environment — a state [described as] an “unengaged mind” (Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2012).

Boredom hasn’t Killed you yet? Don’t Worry it likes to take it’s Time

Dr James Danckert is a professor of cognitive neurosciences at the University of Waterloo. His research found that when boredom becomes “chronic” it can be a risk factor for depression. The more disengaged a person is from satisfying activities, the more likely they are to ruminate on negative things.

There are 2 types of boredom. Either we are bored with everything around us (situational) or we are bored with our line of thinking (existential). Situational boredom leads to unhealthy activities like smoking, drinking, gambling and general disregard for social values (as the 19 year old thief displayed). Boredom compels destructive coping mechanisms.

Existential boredom is a whole other ballgame. We sometimes deal with this type of boredom by practicing the Either/Or rotation method. This involves a constant rotation of pass-times so as not to induce a boredom coma. It’s only a matter of time before all unique activities cease to entertain. This leads not only to boredom but the melancholy of Shakespearean tragedy.

The term “bored to death” isn’t such a far-fetched idea.

There is a Cure

Boredom doesn’t always deal in the negative. A cure for boredom is found in the disease itself. A study conducted in Ireland found boredom can lead to feelings of nostalgia. In other words, we daydream. Daydreaming brings on positive emotions. It can allow us to see our life in a broader perspective and savor a beautiful possible future.

Boredom signals that your actions seems to be lacking purpose. As soon as we are offered alternative behaviors that give us a sense of purpose, we’re more eager to engage. The quality of engagement depends on the balance and use of our character strengths.

Pick a Goal and Pick a Good One

Engagement is a key factor in finding purpose in our lives. Can you remember a time when you were so engrossed in what you were doing that time was irrelevant? You enjoyed that activity to such an extent that nothing else mattered. You had flow. Remember how good it felt? How it gave you a feeling of purpose? Having flow in your life counteracts the symptom of “time standing still” acquired through boredom contagion.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful? A sense of purpose that informed your entire existence.

It’s time to dig deep and realize the meaning behind our goals. There are goals whose purpose are to obtain money and power. These are dead-end goals because they lead to the question “And then what?” We feel empty, like we are not ourselves. When goals fulfill purposes relating to higher dimensions of being and involve ideas like “serving humankind” then obtaining money and affluence is no longer an end in itself. True fulfillment comes when money and affluence are used in service of others.


Philosophers throughout the ages have contemplated the sickness called boredom. In the age of immediate gratification and consumption of passive entertainment, boredom has a particularly high mortality rate.

Dreaming and setting goals are part of the cure. Aiming for dreams and goals that serve the greater good is the most effective medicine. Not knowing which good deeds might provide optimal results keeps us interested in performing them. How can we be bored with that?

Call to Action

Check out this amazing website for more information about Happiness, the cure for boredom.