Research Profile: Boredom is good for you

By Angelica Nancoo

Boredom can be seen, felt, and heard throughout the university. The expressionless faces on students in the halls, the slouchy classmates hunched over desks, and the sighs and yawns that bounce around faculty offices.

However, University of Calgary Greek and Roman Studies professor Peter Toohey has brought mindfulness to boredom, causing much excitement in the literary world with his latest book Boredom: A Lively History.

“I rarely am bored, unless I am at school,” said third-year business student Alex Peregonchuk. He said his boredom is directly related to certain classes he is enrolled in.

Toohey said this is a natural human reaction, which is usually brought on by temporary circumstances, like a specific class or work environment, with associated feelings of mild disgust.

“Some boredom can be tolerated, because you know there’s a greater goal,” said Toohey. He suggests that this mindset can be useful in classes, lectures and other mundane or menial tasks, such as a part-time job or house chores.

This tolerable boredom is what Toohey refers to as simple boredom. He described three types of boredom in his book. Existential boredom and chronic boredom are the other two. The latter is the most harmful — it can lead to manic reactions, such as depression.

Toohey further discusses the harmful effects chronic boredom has on humans. There have been findings where animals have turned on themselves when they are in a state of chronic boredom.

“This process can occur with human beings,” Toohey said.

Boredom is a prominent human emotion, but it is one that is beneficial to our well-being, if it isn’t overwhelming and is in balance with other emotions, he said.

“I get bored and I’ve seen boredom written large in the faces I’ve taught,” said Toohey, who has taught courses like Latin Poetry, Drama in Translation and other Latin language courses.

Boredom, he said, is a way of your mind telling you to step away from the circumstance that is enduring.

“To make an organism prosper, you have to do things to protect them,” states Toohey.

Boredom is a proper mechanism that warns that the situation is harmful to the brain. When boredom engages, it is a sign that you need to move into a more enriched environment.

“Boredom has encouraged me to pursue activities that I otherwise might not have pursued,” said fourth-year mechanical engineering student Gautam Rao. His love for automobiles and sport bikes generated out of boredom.

As for Toohey, activities like walking, listening to music and engaging in social discourse are solutions he uses to combat boredom in his life.

Combining scientific and psychological study, previous literature, a bit of philosophy, and visual art, Toohey’s book is what he describes as a “cultural history book, not a self-help book.”

The purpose of the book is to help others understand how incredibly important boredom is in human life, and that it should be understood for its beneficial properties.

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