Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Boredom! Boredom Blocks Happiness

                                 BOREDOM!  Boredom Blocks Happiness  

When you're bored you feel unhappy. But what is boredom and what can you do about it? As soon as you read the word boredom you probably start to experience unpleasant feelings. You may even want to avoid reading this article! But keep reading. I'll tell you about different types of boredom leading to suggestions as to how to cope with this unpleasant feeling. Active coping mechanisms can dispel boredom and contribute to a sense of efficacy and self-control in your life. 

Boredom can consist of a variety of negative emotions including tedium, restlessness, irritation, apathy, satiation, distraction, mild depression.  (Please note, however, if your sense of boredom turns into depression, you're probably experiencing a different and more troublesome emotion and you may want to seek a different kind of treatment than discussed in this article.) Another common form of boredom is often experienced during your "golden years" after the excitement of retirement has paled.  You can find an article I wrote on retirement ("Happy Retirement to You") in the Advice Line section of this website.


Some characteristics of a boring situation or task include repetition and monotony, almost to a feeling of satiation, being trapped or confined for what seems to be a long time period.   Our time sense being relative, slows down to a crawl, contributing to the negativity of the boring situation. If you think about the characteristics of boredom you will see that the situation is passive and you are inactive or constrained from being active.   Scientific research has not provided much information to help us cope with boredom. One MRI study I found concluded that different parts of the brain become somewhat disconnected from each other after an hour of repetitious tedious tasks.  A disconnected, disoriented brain, confined to an inactive situation, helps us understand the negative characteristics of boredom.


Our analysis has led to the conclusion that we must be active and take control of our life situations to avert the negative traps of boredom. Helpful activities can be physical, mental or a combination of the two, as long as you are in active control of yourself in the situation. Novelty is also extremely helpful as it stimulates the brain. Activity in nature is a great antidote to boredom. (See the article ("Go Green and Conquer Stress" in the Advice Line section of this website.) Mental activity stimulates dopamine receptors and increases feelings of pleasure. Activities such as writing or reading do activate dopamine receptors. When planning your activities, it's a good idea to anticipate possible boring situations and develop a plan of action. Choose anti-boredom tasks to be as active as possible. Texting and twittering are not very active and you can't guarantee that others will be receptive to engage you in this type of conversation. Keep anti-boredom materials handy. For example, I always carry books with me or my iPod with lots of podcast choices.  I can exercise outside with or without this iPod. My Kindle has 80 books to choose from. As I write this I am confined in a boring car ride. "Lucky" me, I always have interesting topics to write about: (in this case boredom.!) We're almost at our destination and I'm almost through writing this article.


What can we do if we are bereft of activities and are trapped in a monotonous situation? You always have your body and mind with you. You can try this multi sensory exercise or meditation. Start with each sense available to you. Vision, for example. Look intensely at every single thing around you, taking in details, noting shapes, colors, movements, anything possibly interesting in your sight. Move your eyes and see how the sights change. In the same way you can explore sounds, body sensations, smells, any thoughts, emotions or memories popping up in your mind and also explore anything happening in your environment. If you treat this exercise as a meditation, you will end up feeling both relaxed and invigorated.


Thomas Carlyle aptly stated, "I’ve got a great ambition to die of exhaustion rather than boredom."  I agree!  When you are active in a purposeful manner you are likely to be happy and certainly will never be bored.