Here's Why Boredom Is The Worst Emotion

From the very first time your parents scoffed at an "I'm bored!" complaint until that time you were stuck in a huge line just last week with nothing to do but wait, boredom has probably played an ongoing role in your life. Sure, I know I've claimed that sadness is actually the worst emotion, and before that I said humiliation is the worst emotion. But research suggests that boredom should rank right up there with the worst of them, because it's both unpleasant and unhealthy.

Experimental participants in whom boredom was induced (with a boring video) showed a spike in cortisol, suggesting that you're actually physiologically aroused when you're bored, not physiologically depressed. And that elevated cortisol level is bad news health-wise: cortisol can "interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease," and more.

Although boredom is certainly not a new emotion, our modern lifestyles may be exacerbating the problem. Compared to the bright colors and constant motion of activities on a smartphone or iPad, other analog entertainment opportunities (pen and paper crossword puzzles, crafting?) seem downright dull. Used to over-scheduled summers, children become more easily bored in the absence of constant planned events — are we just the adult versions of those children now?

Some boredom is a sign that you need help or a change — chronic boredom at home may mean you're depressed, and chronic boredom at work may indicate that it's time for new job. But eating or gaming or texting away every minute of boredom actually keeps you removed from an important feature of the human experience. Bored people are more likely to engage in risky behaviors (such as drug addiction, alcoholism, compulsive gambling, or eating disorders), but, unless you have an actual attention disorder, boredom provides an invitation to voluntarily direct your mental energy towards a worthwhile task.

Apparently, atheists feel bored more frequently than religious people, suggesting that perhaps our boredom levels are tied to whether we feel an overarching purpose in life. Attention problems and boredom at school are reaching epidemic levels as formal education becomes increasingly detached from things students see as relevant to their lives, too. What is your boredom telling you?

So this winter, when you're stuck indoors, try a little unstructured adult play of your own. Conversation with friends, reading a book, or even just thinking to yourself for a while can go a long way towards taming the attention monsters that our digital age has produced out of us. If you're experiencing a common bout of holiday boredom, try tuning into your family instead of tuning out. At the end of the day, boredom is more about you than it is about the external environment. If you're in a healthy place psychologically and there's not much going on in your surroundings, that's called "relaxation," not "boredom." You should try it sometime.

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