Why do we feel bored with life? Isn’t it a conundrum that we so often need a solid routine to feel settled, but once we get there, it doesn’t take long for boredom and fatigue to set in? Another contradiction that has become evident during the past year is that even though we may have more time than ever (especially if working from home), it’s also hard to find things to fill that extra time.
Furthermore, even more contradictory is the fact that we now have a wealth of entertainment options at our fingertips. Indeed, digital technology has opened up a whole new world of things to do and learn, yet many people are still bored with life and don’t make the most of all that’s available.
Life can be long and can be repetitive, but it’s also short and it would be a pity if we spent it being bored and demotivated. In this article I’d like to share some strategies I use whenever I feel bored with life.
We all feel demotivated and bored every now and then, and that’s natural. The cyclical nature of boredom is due to a process called hedonic adaptation. As humans, we have the ability to adapt to change, whether change involves positive or negative experiences. In some ways, this ability has guaranteed our survival as a species, but hedonic adaptation comes with a downside: once we get used to something, it no longer offers a challenge and we become apathetic.
Although hedonic adaptation is a natural process, sometimes being bored with life can be problematic. Indeed, researchers have found links between boredom, substance abuse and mood disorders. It’s not that being bored with life can cause all of this, but it can aggravate tendencies or existing problems.
For example, boredom can make people with depressive tendencies spiral into negative thoughts and feelings of worthlessness. In other people, feeling bored with life can trigger high-risk or destructive behaviours (like substance abuse or gambling, etc.) just to get a thrill.
Bored with life? It's time to find meaning shutterstock/garretsworkshop
Moreover, there’s a difference between being bored with life and being tired of life. The latter is what psychologists call existential boredom, a state in which nothing matters or sparks joy. You could picture it as a chronic feeling of being bored with life. The problem with being with tired of life is that it’s dangerously similar to depression. People affected by existential boredom have deep feelings of inadequacy and believe that life is passing them by without them achieving anything meaningful.
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The trick to avoiding this is knowing how to handle hedonic adaption. When apathy sets in, don’t let it take over. Look at it this way: being bored with life is another way the inner self has of asking, “is this all there is to it?”. In other words, a bored inner self is in urgent need of new challenges that bring joy and meaning to life. So, if the rot has set in, here are some ideas to shake things up a little when the monotony and routine of life is getting you down.
Novelty is the spice of life, but don’t just wait until you wake up to decide how novelty will look on that particular day. If you leave it to chance, it will never happen! Plan in advance and make a list of new things to try every day of the week.
Coming up with ideas may be hard at first if you’re stuck in a rut. What I do is break the day down into different sections. For example, section 1 is “early morning” or “waking up”. Here you could choose to wake up earlier so you can watch the sun rise, start with a new morning meditation routine, or even stay in bed for longer if you’re usually an early bird!
Seeing the same old sights every day at the same time of the day can be mentally exhausting. The good news is that there’s usually more than one way to get to the same place, so try a new route. If possible, walk, cycle or take the bus to work. It’s amazing how much more receptive we are to our surroundings when we’re not behind the wheel. new parks, green spaces
“When apathy sets in, don’t let it take over. Look at it this way: being bored with life is another way the inner self has of asking 'is this all there is to it?'”
Aside from helping to shake off your boredom, taking new routes to our workplaces or schools is scientifically-proven to boost your brain. When we try new routes and see new things, we activate the cortex, the part of the brain responsible for information processing. We also stimulate the hippocampus, the part of our brain that stores memory. At one point in his life, Microsoft founder Bill Gates took a new route home each day to stimulate his brain – and look what he achieved!
And, if you're working from home, try working from a new place such as a café or co-working space every now and then. If you can’t, change the layout or décor of your home office (if you're lucky enough to have one!).
Talking of work, what we do for our living is a key component of finding motivation and keeping boredom at bay. Most of us spend eight or so hours a day working, so if you find your job monotonous and unchallenging, it’s easy to become bored with life.
If your current role doesn’t bring meaning or purpose, it’s time to start thinking about a new career. Volunteering in your spare time is a way to explore options that may stimulate you without having to quit your current job. And if you can’t change jobs, try to come up with imaginative ways of doing what you already do – you can find 10 suggestions here.
One of the most exciting things about life is that we all have the chance to never stop learning new things. Indeed, there are always new skills to learn and practise. If you're feeling bored, sign up for a new class, whether it’s something related to a new career path or something creative that can help you discover new talents.
It could also be a new workout routine. Exercise is a proven mood booster, and there are so many options to try that it can take months or years to get bored. Personally, I’m a huge kickboxing and martial arts fan, but when I get bored of the same old routine I mix it up with dancing lessons. I’m terrible at it (!), but it doesn’t matter as long as it helps me snap out of that tired-of-life feeling.
Sometimes, focusing our attention on others is the best way to forget about our own troubles. If you’re bored with life, take interest in someone else’s life. Helping others creates a feeling of purpose, since we know we’re doing something useful, which is central to life satisfaction. So keep your eyes open for signs of people who may need help and think about how you can be useful to others. As a bonus, this will either help you make new friends or create deeper bonds with existing ones.
I recently came across a study on how important novelty is in fighting the feeling of being bored with life. The study looked at the effect of eating popcorn with chopsticks instead of with bare hands (how’s that for a non-boring challenge?) and found that it helped bring more enjoyment and grounding in the present and enjoyment. Even something as simple as finding exotic spices and preparing a new dish can help.
A professor at a Canadian University said that “mindfulness is accepting the present moment as it is, whereas boredom is the antithesis of that”. Of course, when when we’re bored with life, the last thing we want to do is think about how bored we are right there and then. But if done with the right intention, an inward and mindful look into our feelings can help. Looking for a place to start? Go through the questions listed in this practise exercise.
Social media and video games are meant to entertain us, but the problem with new technologies is that they’re designed to deliver instant gratification. Once that’s achieved, we’re on a wild goose chase to find something else that’s new and exciting.
“One of the most exciting things about life is that we all have the chance to never stop learning new things. If you're feeling bored, sign up for a new class.”
The mechanism behind instant gratification activates certain neural pathways in the brain that are similar to those found in addictive behaviour, which is why some people find it so hard to “disconnect” from the online world. However, digital entertainment doesn’t necessarily help fight boredom. In fact, it spending too much time on it may get in the way of trying some of the ideas suggested above that would make you feel less bored with life.
So, either cut down on screen time, or choose carefully the content you consume instead of scrolling mindlessly. For example, instead of allowing the YouTube “black hole” to suck you in, only use the platform to watch videos related to new things you’re learning, as per point #4 above.
Straddling the fine line between routine and monotony takes practise and determination, but the pay off is well worth it: you’ll be able to bring new experiences and variety into your life and discover new passions. So, if you’re currently feeling bored with life, don’t wait for the world to entertain you. Take active steps to find meaning and joy by using the ideas I've shared with you here. •
Main image: shutterstock/shift drive
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A social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.
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