Boredom isn't a character flaw
Last spring, I started a new exercise class. As someone who dislikes doing jumping jacks, burpees and push-ups, I found the workouts surprisingly enjoyable, at least for a while. But after several months, my hobby began to feel like watching the same episode of a sitcom on repeat. I was overly familiar with the class routine, and my excitement had been replaced with boredom.
A 2016 study published in the journal Emotion estimated that 63 per cent of us suffer from boredom regularly. And research shows that chronically bored people are more prone to depression, substance use, and anxiety.
Even though we all feel apathetic from time to time, according to Mary Mann, author of Yawn: Adventures in Boredom, it’s often seen as being self-inflicted. “Only boring people get bored” is a popular belief.
But boredom isn’t a character flaw. It’s a state brought on by something called hedonic adaptation, or the tendency to get used to things over time. This explains why activities – and even relationships – that were initially gratifying can sometimes lose their lustre.
Passion is fleeting
Humans are remarkably good at growing accustomed to changes in our lives, both positive and negative, according to Professor Sonia Lyubomirsky. This is a good thing when we are faced with adjusting to adversities such as losing a loved one or a job. But becoming immune to positive events can prove detrimental. Think about the last time you got a raise, bought a car or moved. At first, these experiences can bring immense joy. But over time, they become part of the routine. We are ready for the next new thing to excite us. Think of it as a hedonic treadmill.
While boredom can be a downer when it drains the pleasure from our lives, it can provide a sort of service. “If our emotional reactions didn’t weaken with time, we couldn’t recognise novel changes that may signal rewards or threats,” Lyubomirsky says. In other words, we’d overlook cues signalling us to make important decisions about our relationships and safety.
It’s not unlike how our reactions change when we fall in love or experience loss. Being caught in the glow of happiness or the web of sadness can make us distracted or forgetful. We may miss signals that indicate whether we’re about to make a smart move – or a disastrous one. The good news is that understanding the connection between hedonic adaptation and boredom can help us manoeuvre.
A study published in 2018 in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin showed that finding quirky ways to interact with familiar people, places and things can make everyday experiences feel exciting. In other words, sometimes you’ve just got to shake things up. Need some fresh ideas for keeping life fresh? Read on.
Keep your work dynamic
Spending too much time in the same environment can keep us from achieving ‘flow’ – being immersed in an activity with full energy and enjoyment. Changes don’t have to be big to make an impact, according to leadership coach, Rachel Loock. Buy some flowers for your desk, she suggests. Move your home office to the library or a coffee shop a few days a week. Approach a routine task in a new way. For instance, if you’re charged with leading a Monday meeting, try starting it with meditation or a nonwork discussion.