The better side of boredom

Ever wonder what it really means when you're bored?

It happens to everyone -- that getting bored thing. It's a topic that Linda Rodriguez McRobbie writes about for Smithsonian.com.

To start, we should define our terms. McRobbie says there are different types of boredom. There's the run-of-the-mill type of "bored" -- when you're waiting in traffic or at the doctor's office. But then there's what McRobbie calls "existential boredom." She says this is a sort of deep and lingering boredom -- think Madame Bovary and her decision to have an affair that would change her life because...she was bored.

So you're saying you're bored at work? McRobbie says that's not surprising -- some of the first studies on boredom came in the early 1900s and centered around assembly line workers. Early findings suggested one good cure or treatment option was drugs.

"It's a little worrying, but it's also an interesting point about one of the sort of underlying mechanisms of boredom, which is how it relates to attention and whether or not you're able to pay attention to what you want to pay attention to," she says.

But a little boredom can be a good thing. Mind-wandering or day-dreaming can actually have positive reactions for the brain, some studies have shown.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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