Even when we’re stuck at home in lockdown, there’s an ocean of possibility to live an exciting life.
Yet you’re sitting at home like a dead potato, bored with life.
How did it become this way?
Life can feel exciting, vibrant, and complete. You don’t need to be outside doing the things you used to do. You can get over the boredom and feel alive again by doing a few simple things differently.
It begins with understanding why so many of us feel bored with life.
The brutal truth is that modern-day society makes us addicted to things that result in prolonged boredom. In this article, I’ll explain how this has happened and how you can ultimately overcome your boredom.
You only get one life. The more time you spend drifting along, the less time you’re actually spending feeling alive. Let’s change that, firstly by understanding what it means to be bored.
What does it mean to be bored?
You’re stuck at home, bored with life.
When you’re bored, you easily accept many elements of your life. Maybe you are bored with your relationship, bored with your partner, bored with your job, bored with your favorite food, or bored with your hobbies.
Psychologists have come up with a name for this condition. They call it hedonic adaptation. This is the behavioral phenomenon that describes the human tendency to slowly get used to things that we do over and over again.
The first time we experience something, our emotional reaction is at an all-time high.
As we continue to experience the same thing over and over again, the emotional reaction decreases little by little, until there is no emotional reaction at all.
This is the point where we start feeling, “This is so boring.”
You’re probably experiencing it now, while stuck at home in lockdown.
Before explaining what you can do to stop being bored, it’s important to understand these 5 reasons why modern-day society has made life so boring for you.
5 reasons the modern world makes life boring
We live in a world with a thousand channels, a million websites, and countless video games and movies and albums and events, with the ability to travel around the world and learn languages and try exotic cuisines like never before, the epidemic of boredom in the modern world seems oxymoronic.
Suddenly, it’s all changed and you’re stuck at home.
Even before this crisis, many people were reporting chronic boredom and feelings of fulfillment. Why is this the case?
Here are 5 reasons why the modern world has set you up to fail:
The human mind is susceptible to addiction for a number of reasons: the biochemical addiction to the dopamine releases after a pleasurable experience; the behavioral addiction to repeating the same activities and simply getting used to the routine; the psychological addiction of keeping up with activities so as not to feel socially excluded by your peers.
These are just a few of the reasons why we can become addicted to anything that presses our buttons enough in the right ways.
In this case, we are talking about the widespread addiction to overstimulation.
We are constantly stimulated by the technology that we possess.
From TV shows to video games to social media to movies to texting to photos and everything else that fill up our personal social news feeds and our time all day long, we never want for more entertainment in a world filled with it.
But this overstimulation has set the standards too high.
By being overstimulated, we never feel stimulated.
Only maximum entertainment can keep us at a satisfactory level of stimulation, simply because we have become so drowned in it for so long.
2) Fulfilled basic needs
For most of human history, continued access to the basic necessities of life was not guaranteed.
Food, water, and shelter were things that the majority of people have always had to struggle for, and modern tenants like basic human rights were barely considered for the vast majority of human civilization.
These days, many of us (or at least those of us who are reading this article) do not have to worry so much about the basics of living – food, water, and shelter.
We might still struggle to pay the bills, but only in our worst-case scenarios do we have to truly face the reality of going hungry, not having enough water, and not having a place to sleep.
For so long, the struggle of humanity has been to fulfill these basic human needs, and this is how our minds have been programmed.
Now that many of us have these basic needs satisfied without spending our entire day working towards fulfilling them, our brains are now forced to ask: now what?
It’s a new question that many of us still struggle to answer. What comes after?
When we are no longer hungry, thirsty, and without a home, when we have a partner and sexual satisfaction, and when we have a steady career – now what?
3) Separation of individual and production
Rudá Iandê argues that our capitalist system has stripped humans of meaning:
“We’ve replaced our connection with the chain of life for our place in the productive chain. We became cogs in the capitalist machine. The machine got bigger, fat, greedy and sick. But, suddenly, the machine stopped, giving us the challenge and opportunity to redefine our meaning and identity.”
For this point, we can dip into Marxist theory and understand the link between the individual and what they produce. In the pre-modern world, there was a clear connection between your role as a worker and the service or work you provided.
No matter what your profession might have been – a farmer, a tailor, a cobbler – you clearly understood your role in society, as it was directly connected to the work you performed and the items you produced.
Today, that link is no longer so clear. We have created businesses and corporations that run seemingly imaginary roles. There are countless professions now that, if asked the question, “What do you produce?”, cannot answer simply.
Sure, we might understand our work and the way our hours contribute to the company as a whole.
But there is the alienation between what we do and what we produce – which in many cases, is nothing.
While we might be working and achieving a salary and acclaim in our company and industry, we don’t feel like we are working towards creating anything real and tangible.
This ultimately contributes to the feeling, “What am I doing with my life?” which resonates with individuals who feel that their passions are meaningless because the work they do creates nothing they can truly envision.
(Rudá Iandê is a shaman and helps people to recover their meaning in life. He’s running a free masterclass on Ideapod. Thousands have attended and reported that it’s life-changing. Check it out.)
4) Unrealistic expectations
Social media is a cancer – there’s no other way to say it. It fills us with feelings of FOMO, or the Fear Of Missing Out.
We follow millionaires and celebrities and get blasted with images and videos of their amazing lives.
We also follow our own peers and see all the great things going on in their lives – vacations, career promotions, great relationships, and more. And then we are forced to do one of two things:
1) Continue consuming the amazing social media content, while slowly feeling like our own life is inadequate
2) Try to compete with our own social circles and post even better and bigger things to show that we have just as amazing lives as they do
It ultimately leads to a cycle of unrealistic expectations, where no one is living their lives simply because they want to live it, but they are living it because they want other people to know that they are living it.
We end up feeling that we cannot be happy or fulfilled if we aren’t living the exciting, vibrant, and full lives of the people we follow; lives that, in most cases, would be impossible to replicate, and aren’t actually as good as they look online.
We see none of the bad and an exaggeration of the good.
We see the curated versions of people’s lives that they want us to see, and none of the negativity or disappointment or hardship they might have gone through. And when we compare our lives to theirs, ours never feels like it can live up to it.
Finally, you give up – you become bored because you cannot compete with their happiness because you have let others define what happiness means to you.
5) You don’t know what you want
And lastly, perhaps the most important point for most of us facing boredom with life – you simply do not know what you want.
Most of us don’t do well with choices.
The modern world has given many of us the freedom to choose and dictate the paths of our lives, from the careers we choose to the partners we marry.
We have the freedom to work just 8 hours a day, instead of spending all day outside on the farm or on the hunt.
We have the luxury to study and work anywhere we want around the world, leaving us with a million ways to go down a million different paths.
This level of choice can be paralyzing. We constantly have to ask ourselves – did I make the right choice?
When we start to feel unsatisfied and unaccomplished in our lives, we start to doubt the important decisions we made.
Did I study in the right place? Did I get the right degree? Did I choose the right partner? Did I choose the right company?
And with so many questions for so many decisions available to us, all it takes is a little doubt in a few of them to start feeling like something went wrong in our lives somewhere down the line. When that doubt creeps it, so does regret.
This ends up poisoning every other aspect of our life, making the current life we’re living feel inadequate or unsatisfying.
When boredom strikes, our instinct is to go out into the world and add new things to our lives – which is part of the problem.
People tend to think moving halfway across the world or going on an insane party or taking up a wild new hobby is the ultimate fix to a boring existence.
However, seeking out new experiences doesn’t give you the time or space to reflect on the things you have in your life.
What you’re doing is filling up your days with more distractions and more stimulation.
In reality, whatever new exciting thing you adopt will inevitably get old.
Every new thing you do is bound to get boring because the root of the problem isn’t the things you do – it’s about how you do it.
Ultimately, boredom is a symptom of the following:
- You are afraid of your thoughts
- You don’t know what to do with quiet lulls
- You are addicted to stimulation
What most people don’t understand is that boredom is a state of being – a reflection to how you are living your life.
Even the most exciting people in the world get tired of their lives after they’ve fully adapted to it.
The solution to boredom isn’t escapism. In order to cure boredom, you have to challenge autonomy in your own life.
Going on the next great big adventure won’t help your boredom – but making your everyday life an adventure will.
Hedonic adaptation: How to make your routine exciting
In order to overcome boredom, you have to overcome hedonic adaptation.
Once we get too familiar with our routine, we forget the little details that once made it so delightful.
Adopting a more mindful mindset will help you find new joys in life, and will continuously make the old feel new again.
Here are some mental exercises that could help you overcome hedonic adaptation:
1) Take a different route
Shaking up your life doesn’t always have to involve a drastic change.
It can be as simple as changing the route you take to work and home. Instead of taking the same bus route, choose a different one that will allow you to take in different sights.
This gives your brain the opportunity to look at things differently, instead of staring at the same billboards and the same ads you’ve seen a thousand times before.
And when you start getting bored of that route, go back to your old one. You will be surprised at the seemingly new things you’ll start noticing once you’ve given yourself a change in scenery.
Of course, many people in lockdown aren’t going to work right now. But you can still use this insight at home.
Instead of always walking the same way to the grocery store, trying taking a different route. If you go running for exercise, shake up the path you take.
2) Ask good questions
Replace the standard “how are you today” with something new and exciting.
Asking exciting questions has two-fold benefits: first, it challenges your brain to think outside the box; second, you’re engaging your partner, friend, or coworker in a way you haven’t been before.
Instead of having the same stale conversation about weekends, ask the people around you new things you never would have asked them before.
Go for quirky questions like “If you were allowed to eat one cuisine in the world and nothing else, what would it be?”
This gives you the opportunity to discover new things about your social circle, while encouraging curiosity and excitement in your own personal life.
3) Ditch the office
Being exposed to the same environment for far too long contributes to boredom. If you work at an office, consider asking your boss for some time to work from home.
Use this opportunity to make calls, check emails, and do office tasks in a nice coffee shop or lounge.
If stepping out of the office is non-negotiable, consider rearranging your desk and restructuring the way it functions.
The point is to force your brain to start paying attention again instead of putting yourself on autopilot.
Simply switching the drawers of all your belongings will train your brain to pay more attention the next time you are reaching out for the stapler.
4) Eat with your hands
A dining experience has many components.
We like to think that the quality of the food and service are the only things that matter, but the truth is that the experience can also color how it turns out in our heads.
Ever wondered why eating Chinese takeout is so fun?
It’s not because you’re eating Michelin-star food; it’s probably because you’re sitting on the floor, eating it straight out of the box with chopsticks.
Eating with your hands is advice you can take literally and metaphorically.
The next time you eat something, ditch the cutleries and take the time to savor each bite.
Feel out the texture of what you’re eating and think about how it contributes to the overall dining experience.
Overcoming hedonic adaptation is all about finding novelty in things you already do (like eating, commuting, or working) by finding new, weird ways to do it.
Why you are bored with life
Let’s go a little deeper into what it means to be bored with life?
It means your life has lost direction. Your passions have burnt out. Your heroes have disappeared. Your hopes and dreams just don’t seem to matter anymore.
And you don’t know what to do about it.
Becoming bored with life might seem like it happened out of nowhere, but this is never the case. It’s more of a process, but one you don’t recognize has happened until it has fully sunk in.
The process requires certain events to transpire in your life, and once you have experienced enough of these types of events without truly dealing with them, you will find yourself stuck in the hole known as “being bored with life”.
Here are the kinds of experiences that can lead you to feel this way:
- Your heart was broken, and you feel too tired to put yourself out there again
- You tried to accomplish something and you failed, so now you think that anything else you might try will just end up the same way
- You cared deeply and passionately about a project or vision but you were disappointed in some way
- You have spent months or years trying to change your situation to get more out of your life, but things keep getting in the way, thus stopping you from moving forward
- You feel like you are running out of time to be the person you want to be; you feel like you’re not the person you should be at this age
- Other people who were once equal with you in terms of career or projects have accomplished your dreams, and now you feel that your dreams were never meant for you
- You never felt truly passionate about anything, and now you are afraid that you will never feel what other people feel
- You have lived the same life and routine for the last several years and you don’t see any of it changing any time soon; this feels like the rest of your life, and everything new in your life is over
Being bored with your life is a much deeper feeling than simply being bored. It is one that borders an existential crisis; at times, it is a major sign of an existential crisis.
And ultimately it is rooted in the inner conflict that we all face – is this it? Is this my life? Is this all I was meant to do?
And instead of confronting those difficult questions, we suppress them and hide them away. This leads to the feeling of being bored with life.
There are questions and conflicts we know we need to deal with, but we fear we do not have the courage to face them, because we might not like the answers that we need to make once we face those questions head-on.
Three types of boredom
According to world-renowned Buddhist Sakyong Mipham, there are three types of boredom. These are:
– Anxiety: Anxiety boredom is boredom that is fueled by anxiety at its root. We use stimuli to keep ourselves engaged at all times.
We believe that fun is something that has to be produced by an external stimulant – an activity with another person – and we don’t have those external stimulants, we become filled with anxiety and dread.
– Fear: Fear boredom is the fear of the self. The fear of what being unstimulated would lead to, and what might happen if we allow our minds to just sit in peace for once and think.
There are many people who cannot stand the idea of relaxing alone with their mind, because it forces them to ask questions they don’t want to deal with.
– Personal: Personal boredom is different from the first two in that it is more reflective, requiring a person to analyze what their boredom means rather than avoiding it out of a base instinct.
This type of boredom occurs in those who understand that their boredom doesn’t come from the lack of external stimulation, but comes from their personal lack of ability to engage with the world in an interesting way.
We are bored because our thoughts are repetitive and boring, not because the world cannot entertain us.
Boredom isn’t the problem
The next time you’re bored, fight the urge to book a spontaneous beach trip or engage in some form of body modification. At the end of the day, boredom isn’t so much a problem as it is a symptom.
For the most part, what makes boredom so unbearable is that people treat it like a problem. In reality, you don’t have to escape boredom.
Boredom is a normal, if not inevitable, part of everyone’s existence. It’s not a problem that you have to escape – it’s an opportunity to ask yourself: “How can I do things differently?”