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Can You Actually Be Bored to Death?

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Kind of. Boredom won’t directly kill you on its own, but it does make it more likely that a handful of other things will put you six feet under. 

Consider this: In a survey taken in the late 1980s, over 7500 London civil servants age 33 to 55, were asked, among other things, how bored they had been at work in the last month and how healthy and physically active they thought they were. Around 7 percent reported being bored “quite a lot” in the previous month, and about 2 percent said they were bored “a great deal,” and those who were more bored also reported lower physical activity and rated their health as worse. 

In 2009, decades after the survey was taken, a pair of public health researchers went through the survey data and the National Health Service’s central registry to see which survey takers had died and which ones were still alive. They found that the people who had been more bored at work were more likely to have died, and more than twice as likely to have had a fatal cardiovascular disease. (Increased likelihood of death tied to boredom also seemed to be cumulative. Data and surveys were collected several times over the the years, and the people who reported being bored multiple times were more likely to die than those who had only reported it once.)

The researchers thought that the boredom-death connection might have formed because bored people were more likely to feel unfulfilled, unmotivated, and unhappy, which could lead to unhealthy behaviors like excessive drinking and smoking, overeating, and drug use. Those habits, in turn, would increase their risks of stroke and heart disease. The state of boredom, they wrote, “is almost certainly a proxy for other risk factors.” 

Other research has connected boredom to risk-taking that can be hazardous to people’s health. Public health researchers in Baltimore found that, among urban drug users, those who were more bored were more likely to report symptoms of depression and engage in risky sexual and needle-use practices. Meanwhile, back in the UK, a psychologist and a civil engineer surveyed motorists and found that the drivers who were most prone to boredom while on the road were more likely to engage in driving habits that put them at high risk for accidents and crashes—like tailgating, speeding, driving while sleepy, or daydreaming behind the wheel—sometimes in an attempt to make driving more exciting. 

Novelty-seeking and risk-taking, psychiatrist Katya Rubia explains in Boredom: A Lively History, is also how bored children with ADHD “self-medicate” to cure their boredom. Likewise, psychologist Peter Suedfeld told mental_floss alum Maggie Koerth-Baker last year that “people will sometimes do reckless, stupid things when they suffer from chronic boredom.” The isolation of working on an Antarctic research station, he said, can send scientists out on solo strolls in the elements, sans coat, when the temperature is 40 below. 

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Who Was Chuck Taylor?
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From Betty Crocker to Tommy Bahama, plenty of popular labels are "named" after fake people. But one product with a bona fide backstory to its moniker is Converse's Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers. The durable gym shoes are beloved by everyone from jocks to hipsters. But who's the man behind the cursive signature on the trademark circular ankle patch?

As journalist Abraham Aamidor recounted in his 2006 book Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History, Chuck Taylor was a former pro basketball player-turned-Converse salesman whose personal brand and tireless salesmanship were instrumental to the shoes' success.

Charles Hollis Taylor was born on July 24, 1901, and raised in southern Indiana. Basketball—the brand-new sport invented by James Naismith in 1891—was beginning to take the Hoosier State by storm. Taylor joined his high school team, the Columbus High School Bull Dogs, and was named captain.

After graduation, instead of heading off to college, Taylor launched his semi-pro career playing basketball with the Columbus Commercials. He’d go on to play for a handful of other teams across the Midwest, including the the Akron Firestone Non-Skids in Ohio, before finally moving to Chicago in 1922 to work as a sales representative for the Converse Rubber Shoe Co. (The company's name was eventually shortened to Converse, Inc.)

Founded in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1908 as a rubber shoe manufacturer, Converse first began producing canvas shoes in 1915, since there wasn't a year-round market for galoshes. They introduced their All-Star canvas sports shoes two years later, in 1917. It’s unclear whether Chuck was initially recruited to also play ball for Converse (by 1926, the brand was sponsoring a traveling team) or if he was simply employed to work in sales. However, we do know that he quickly proved himself to be indispensable to the company.

Taylor listened carefully to customer feedback, and passed on suggestions for shoe improvements—including more padding under the ball of the foot, a different rubber compound in the sole to avoid scuffs, and a patch to protect the ankle—to his regional office. He also relied on his basketball skills to impress prospective clients, hosting free Chuck Taylor basketball clinics around the country to teach high school and college players his signature moves on the court.

In addition to his myriad other job duties, Taylor played for and managed the All-Stars, a traveling team sponsored by Converse to promote their new All Star shoes, and launched and helped publish the Converse Basketball Yearbook, which covered the game of basketball on an annual basis.

After leaving the All-Stars, Taylor continued to publicize his shoe—and own personal brand—by hobnobbing with customers at small-town sporting goods stores and making “special appearances” at local basketball games. There, he’d be included in the starting lineup of a local team during a pivotal game.

Taylor’s star grew so bright that in 1932, Converse added his signature to the ankle patch of the All Star shoes. From that point on, they were known as Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Still, Taylor—who reportedly took shameless advantage of his expense account and earned a good salary—is believed to have never received royalties for the use of his name.

In 1969, Taylor was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The same year, he died from a heart attack on June 23, at the age of 67. Around this time, athletic shoes manufactured by companies like Adidas and Nike began replacing Converse on the court, and soon both Taylor and his namesake kicks were beloved by a different sort of customer.

Still, even though Taylor's star has faded over the decades, fans of his shoe continue to carry on his legacy: Today, Converse sells more than 270,000 pairs of Chuck Taylors a day, 365 days a year, to retro-loving customers who can't get enough of the athlete's looping cursive signature.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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