Bored Girl

Boredom’s Call to Action, for Better or Worse

Boredom is unpleasant for a reason – our brain wants action from us. It is a signal that, whatever we’re doing, something isn’t right. We’re not engaged with it or we’re not finding meaning in it. We need to change course. So one way or another, we will respond to that discomfort prompting us for action. It might be a constructive change – seeking out a change or a better situation. Solving a problem. Or it might take the form of emotional eating.

Boredom is an uncomfortable emotion and it requires action.

Boredom and Emotional Eating

In a new paper published in Appetite, Erica Ahlich and Diana Rancourt explore the relationship between boredom and emotional eating. They explain:

Boredom proneness emerged as an important predictor of emotional eating, over and above the variance accounted for by the broad dimensions of positive and negative affect. This replicates a small body of research describing positive associations between boredom and problematic eating behaviors such as overeating, emotional eating, and consumption of less healthy snacks. This study provides further evidence that boredom may be an important, but understudied emotion when it comes to dysregulated eating.

Ahlich and Rancourt are careful to say that their work points to the importance of boredom in emotional eating, but this is a subject that requires further research.

Disengaged, Bored, and Unhappy at Work

So this leads us to speculate that boredom, disengagement, and unhappiness at work may be among the stresses prompting more obesity in the population. Gallup CEO Jon Clifton has a new book on the global rise of unhappiness his organization has found. He says that roughly 60 percent of the global workforce is not engaged at work. Thus, the misery that ensues from boredom at work is a big part in the rise of unhappiness around the world. He explains:

“It really comes down to three factors. One of them is the global rise of hunger. The other two big factors are loneliness and the workplace. We spend so much of our lives at work. There’s one analysis that says it’s 115,000 hours – which is 13 years of a person’s life. I tried to replicate the analysis and came up with about 85,000. The only thing we do more in life is sleep. So if we spend that much time at work and we are truly miserable at work, it’s making our lives worse.”

Call to Action

Erin Westgate is a social psychologist at the University of Florida who studies boredom. Though it can cause problems, she says, boredom is actually a valuable call to action:

“I think boredom gets a bad rap that’s not deserved. It is linked to a lot of what most of us want out of life – like living a rich, fulfilling, interesting, meaningful life. Boredom is just one sort of helpful signal – maybe unwanted signal – that helps us get there.”

We should pay attention.

Click here for the study by Ahlich and Rancourt, here for an interview with Clifton, and here for further perspective in the Washington Post.

Bored Girl, photograph by R. Nial Bradshaw, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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October 1, 2022

One Response to “Boredom’s Call to Action, for Better or Worse”

  1. October 01, 2022 at 11:31 am, Angela Golden said:

    Thank you for this. I share with my patients to watch if they are eating because they are bored and we talk about ways to fill that time with something besides grazing for food.