Science: Boredom - an underestimated everyday feeling

A gray winter day and nobody has time for anything.

Science: Boredom - an underestimated everyday feeling

A gray winter day and nobody has time for anything. The long wait for the late bus. A tough school lesson. Sometimes it can all be terribly boring, tiring and almost unbearable. Deadly boring, they also say. Or be bored out of your mind. One thing is certain: nobody likes boredom. What researchers know about boredom - and what it can be good for.

What is boredom?

"Boredom is the absence of all motivating stimuli. There is nothing that would push or pull me," says psychology professor Oliver Schultheiss from the University of Erlangen. “In scientific terms, boredom is a signal,” says psychologist Maik Bieleke from the University of Konstanz. "It alerts us to the fact that we may be wasting our time and encourages us to do something else." However, boredom research is still in its infancy. “The research that exists shows that areas of the brain that are related to evaluation processes are active,” says Bieleke

Is boredom a question of age?

“Children get bored more often and more,” says Bieleke. This is because they have fewer opportunities to shape their environment. “Their schedules are not that full yet,” adds Schultheiss. In addition, children are experiencing many things for the first time and therefore have no idea how long the car journey on vacation can take, for example. “Boredom changes over the course of life,” says the sociologist Silke Ohlmeier, who published a book about boredom in the spring. "It peaks in the teenage years. From the twenties onwards, boredom decreases continuously and then increases again as you get older."

Are some people more bored than others?

Everyone experiences boredom - but not everyone is always aware of it. “Because it is a fundamental signal, boredom often affects our behavior without us noticing it,” says Bieleke. On the one hand, this is because there are so many ways to distract yourself or keep yourself busy today. "It has become attractive to reach for your smartphone at the slightest hint of boredom." On the other hand, there are also people who find it easier to find ideas for employment. They then said of themselves that they are never or only rarely bored.

Silke Ohlmeier describes in her book that this can also be a question of education and financial situation: "Because boredom is such a common everyday phenomenon, it is often referred to in research as a democratic feeling." This may apply to situational boredom - the kind you feel when you're stuck in a traffic jam, for example. The situation is different with the chronic boredom that you can feel in your job or your current life situation. For example, if you have little money, you don't risk changing jobs and go to the cinema or play sports less often.

Should you tolerate boredom sometimes?

“If there is little external stimulus, the brain tends to switch on the mental cinema,” says Schultheiss. Daydreaming is a strategy against boredom that can unleash creativity. “We need this break for our brains.” Boredom in itself is important, but it is not an end in itself, says Bieleke. "I believe that we always have to weigh up what I want to endure this for." This could make sense at school, for example, so that you can learn something and get good grades. Even if you are chronically bored, Ohlmeier advocates allowing it sometimes. If you fill your week with appointments, you're just numbing the feeling, she says. "It's important to look and admit boredom in order to be able to change something in the long term."

What's the point of boredom?

“Boredom is an unpleasant feeling and people do a lot to escape it,” says Ohlmeier. "But the impulse doesn't give us any direction. It's a myth that boredom per se makes you creative." Studies show that boredom is perceived as even more unpleasant than exertion, explains the sociologist. "What we do when we're bored also has a lot to do with what we do otherwise in life." Anyone who watches a lot of television is more likely to combat boredom with television than with sports.

Can you get bored even though you always have something to do?

According to Ohlmeier, boredom is not so much a question of a lack of quantity, but of a lack of quality. So you can have a lot to do, but find it monotonous or pointless, feel underchallenged or overwhelmed. An example of this could be parental leave, where mothers and fathers are busy with the small child all the time - and sometimes still get bored because they lack the time for themselves and their cognitive skills, says Ohlmeier. Even people with supposedly exciting careers, such as surgeons or lawyers, could become bored when they actually wanted to be something else.

Can boredom make you sick?

Extreme boredom makes you tired, you feel listless and burned out. "Once we're really bored, it's hard for us to get ourselves up to something," says Ohlmeier, and explains that she herself suffered from a "boreout" during her training. "Long periods of boredom are not relaxation. They stress us out and make us restless." In the long term, chronic boredom can have significant consequences such as depression, eating disorders and addictions.