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How moments of boredom help us achieve more

Source | : By Vivian Giang

“There is something more terrible than a hell of suffering,” the French novelist Victor Hugo wrote in his book Les Misérables in 1862. “A hell of boredom.”

It is an observation that apparently remains true even today. In our modern society, boredom is something to be escaped, whether it’s with a quick game of Angry Birds or by scrolling through your social media feed.

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It is perhaps not that surprising that we find boredom so uncomfortable. Just look at the importance society places on being busy. The wealthiest among us work longer hours  while being busy has become a status symbol and a mark of prestige.

Boredom and idleness, by contrast, are for the underachievers, the lazy, the loafers. It is something associated with mental dullness and lacking in aim or purpose. In a society where happiness and positivity are often linked to productivity, those who are bored must by extension be unhappy.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Modern technology such as mobile phones, social media and video games provide an easy distraction from boredom (Credit: Getty Images)

The psychoanalyst Martin Wangh described boredom as an “inhibition of fantasy” and a number of studies have indicated that those suffering from “boredom proneness” lack external stimuli and are easily frustrated in challenging situations.

But perhaps we have got boredom wrong. There is a growing body of research that suggests by not allowing ourselves to be bored once in a while, we may be missing out on something important.

Channel your idleness

Many of our best ideas come to us during idle moments, such as while commuting to work, or taking a shower or a long walk. In fact, we may be at our most creative when we are bored.

In a study at Pennsylvania State University, psychologists Karen Gasper and Brianna Middlewood found participants who were bored performed better in creativity tests than those who were relaxed or feeling elated. They asked volunteers to watch video clips to evoke certain feelings, before testing their ability to think up words. The researchers found that when asked to think of vehicles, most people say “car,” but if someone was bored, their minds might wander, even as far as to respond with “camel”.

The most tedious parts of our jobs may be harbouring a potential for creativity that might surprise us.

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