‘The Boredom Economy’

by Mémé

Investing as a way of coping with pandemic boredom has also fueled an amateur day-trading boom more broadly. New accounts at online brokers like E-Trade, Charles Schwab and Robinhood exploded.

Like all emotions, boredom provides us not just with information to act on; it also works through anticipation. With boredom, which is generally considered a bad feeling, we may be making certain decisions during the pandemic — about what we buy or do, for instance — in the hopes of staving it off.

Early in the pandemic, bread-making fervor prompted stores across the country to sell out of yeast. Puzzle sales have skyrocketed. Gardening has taken off as a hobby. Scotts Miracle-Gro sales increased more than 30 percent for the fiscal year that ended in September, to a record $4.13 billion. The newfound interest in lockdown gardening spurred the company to run its first Super Bowl commercial.

Home improvement, too, has boomed. According to the NPD Group, 81 percent of consumers in the United States purchased home improvement products in the six months than ended in November. Sherwin-Williams said it had record sales in the fourth quarter and for the year, in part because of strong performances in its do-it-yourself and residential repaint businesses. Pandemic boredom evidently has nothing on watching paint dry.

There has also been an increase in sales of things like video games to keep us occupied, as well as things to help relieve the stress of the pandemic (and, perhaps, boredom from being at home), including self-help books, candles and massaging appliances. Sales of loaf pans jumped nearly 60 percent last year.

Boredom may be driving people to more self-destructive behavior as well, though even that has economic implications. A study in September by American Addiction Centers, “Booze vs. Boredom,” reported that one-third of those surveyed said boredom during the pandemic had prompted them to drink more. Alcohol sales have soared.

Research has shown that mind-wandering, an activity that can happen during periods of boredom, can result in greater productivity. But during the pandemic, some of the best opportunities for mind-wandering, like the daily commute to work, have been lost for the millions of people now working from home.

Pandemic boredom, however, could be reorienting the economy.

Sandi Mann, a psychologist who has written a book called “The Science of Boredom,” said boredom could lead people and businesses to become more creative.

“That’s what downtime and boredom does,” she said. “It forces us to think differently because that’s what we do when we have time to think.”