How to Beat Boredom and Live a Longer, Happier Life
In the 1970s, the then-famous actor George Sanders shocked the world when he killed himself and left a suicide note that explained, “… I am bored.” Killing yourself is a pretty extreme response to being bored, of course, but several studies of late have found a startling connection between chronic boredom and early death… perhaps a literal demonstration of “bored to death.” In one study, researchers conducted initial interviews in the mid-1980s with 7,500 civil servants in the UK. When they returned to update information about 25 years later, they found that people who had said that they were bored in the original screening were nearly 40% more likely to have died than those who found their lives more interesting. The same study revealed that people living with high levels of tedium were 2.5 times more likely to die of heart disease than those who did not. This is certainly an interesting demonstration of the powerful connection between mind and body.
Many people live with assorted states of boredom — and yes, some parts of life (paying bills, loading the dishwasher) are quite dull. But giving in to living a life that feels tedious can ultimately be very destructive, says life coach and Daily Health News contributor Lauren Zander. Boredom is a state of mind, she says — in her view, this truth is very, very powerful.
The destructive part? People who are bored at work start showing up late, making mistakes and otherwise begin to act in ways that may eventually lead to the exit door (or at the very least, keep them stuck doing the same job without much prospect of advancement). Boredom can also destroy relationships… no longer excited about the other person, people quit paying attention to conversations or doing nice things for him/her — and some even use their boredom to justify having an affair. Boredom doesn’t strike only in romantic relationships, by the way — it can also cause you to take friends, siblings, even your children for granted.
Interestingly, boredom can even arise in areas where you have achieved success — precisely because you’ve succeeded. Say you have a wonderful job and you are on top of the career ladder, but you find yourself getting restless and, yes, bored. The reason is simply that you have attained mastery (and kudos to you!) and now it just feels like the same-old, same-old.
Boredom feeds on itself, breeding laziness and yet more dissatisfaction. When you’re bored, you do nothing, which leads to… being bored. If you are sitting on the couch being bored, you are not reading books that suggest new adventures or challenge your old ways of thinking. You aren’t out enjoying events and activities and interactions with others. You aren’t engaging in activities that are creative, fun, stimulating or enriching. Of course you’re bored!
But flat as it may make you feel, Lauren doesn’t see boredom as one-dimensional at all… in fact, it has many layers, she says. If you find yourself saying “it is what it is” about your boring life, it’s partly out of laziness… partly indifference… and also likely has elements of fear and depression too. All this is wrapped up tightly in the belief that you cannot do anything to make life better. People blame outside forces for their boredom… their same old job, spouse, house… everything but themselves.
BOREDOM IS A CHOICE
Boredom may be an inevitable part of life, but it’s not a life sentence — it’s a signal that you need to find something interesting to do! That seemingly enlightened mantra “it is what it is” is, in fact, a clue that you are feeling stuck in your life or behavior — take it as a nudge to start looking to learn something from your boredom. It may mean that you have achieved your goals in one part of your life, so it is time to create change for yourself — perhaps search out new challenges that you could add to your job description or maybe even look for a whole new position. Or if your weekends are empty and dull because they’re no longer filled with your children’s sports and parties, it’s time to schedule new activities of your own.
Here’s the powerful part: Becoming aware of your boredom shows you the parts of life where you are letting things just exist rather than taking action to shape them to your liking. So now you can do something about it. Take an inventory of your current life… look for areas where you have become lazy, slightly depressed, indifferent and feel resigned about facing another day. These are all indicators of boredom and as such they are your signals to step in to start making change. Note: Lauren cautions that it is important to be careful not to confuse boredom with contentment. Contentment is when you truly are at peace with the way things are, whereas boredom leaves you unhappy with the status quo.
Finding ways to bring some zing into your life isn’t hard. When people consider making changes in their lives, they tend to think globally, as if they have to change everything — start a new career or ditch a spouse — right now. Not so, says Lauren. In fact the best way to get going is with very small changes, which may be as simple as adding air to the tires of your bike and going for a ride… getting in the car and heading out for a “field trip” to a town you’ve never visited… or even going food shopping in a very different sort of place, like a farmer’s market or a gourmet supermarket. If your sex life with your partner puts you to sleep, you can change that by taking small steps as well, says Lauren. “Make out in the car, ask for a kiss in the morning, do something new together each week — slowly inch your way back to where you would like this to be,” she suggests. Try something new or different to engage your imagination and emotions. Start by breaking the boredom of the moment, and then go on to making plans to break the cycle in more important areas where you feel stuck, such as work or your marriage overall.
Boredom is actually a valuable signal that can energize you and put you back in power. Pay attention to your “boredom radar” so that you spot it quickly, before it harms the quality of your life. Take responsibility, urges Lauren. “You’re the driver in your life — and if you have driven yourself into a ditch, admit you put yourself there and accept that you can get yourself out.” That’s a powerful thought indeed!