The idea of life being short is commonly pushed as a reason to embrace the now, to embrace whatever it is that one must do to find their happiness in the present moment.
Take this quote from Paulo Coelho for instance:
One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.
But is life truly short? It is true that life can be cut short due to tragedy, illness, or unexpected circumstances that hit you out of nowhere, but life isn’t going to be short for a lot of people.
It’s going to be long.
If you follow the traditional path of life, you’ll go to school for most of the first 20 years of your life, maybe more.
Then, you’ll hop into the job market where you will work to maybe buy a house, raise a family, and save for retirement for 30 or 40 years.
And then hopefully, you retire, and get to live out your silver and golden years in peace and comfort thanks to the work you put in over the course of your life.
At least, that’s supposed to be the plan – life doesn’t always work out the way we plan it.
But still, that’s a long time whether or not everything does go according to plan. Doing the same thing over and over, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year gets monotonous.
People need variety in their life, even those who are comfortable with a predictable, structured existence. A lack of variety leaves people feeling bored and may eventually cause a breakdown in many or all aspects of their life.
This article will delve deep into this insidious boredom. It will explore what it feels like, what causes it, and how to overcome it.
So let’s jump right in, shall we?
What does it feel like to be bored with life?
Boredom with life is not like your run-of-the-mill boredom.
When life feels boring, you wake up in the morning to a world that is devoid of color, beauty, or stimulation.
You feel directionless. You stumble through the day, doing the things that society requires you to do, and then you go to bed and fall into a troubled, restless sleep.
Even the weekend – often a place of rest bite from the monotony of the working week – holds no joy for you.
Every part of you wants your life to change, but you can’t figure out how you want it to change, and you can’t bring yourself to change it. You just know it has to… somehow.
Until then, you’re driftwood, floating on the sea of life, just bobbing along on the currents.
You may even have a life that others envy – a solid relationship, good job, happy kids, nice house, fancy possessions – but you’re still left wanting.
You may be loved by many and have others who depend on you, yet you feel there’s got to be more to life than this.
And this feeling isn’t constrained solely to the mind. Boredom with life seeps into your body too. This can result in headaches, tightness of the muscles, digestion problems, and a general lack of energy among other things.
This what true, soul-crushing boredom feel like.
Is this boredom the same as depression?
The short answer is: not always.
You can experience this deep boredom without necessarily being depressed in the clinical sense.
And you can suffer from depression and not be completely and utterly bored with your day-to-day existence.
There is an overlap between the two groups and there can be an interaction between boredom and depression. But depression can have more serious consequences, so if you are unsure whether you might be depressed, it is worth speaking to your doctor or other healthcare professional.
What role does technology play in making us bored?
It’s interesting that, despite the plethora of options available to us for entertainment, we still find ourselves bored and disengaged.
We carry a device in our pocket that gives us access to immediate entertainment and the collective knowledge of humanity. How is it that we are so bored with that at our fingertips?
Overstimulation is a contributor. An unending number of choices for entertainment can make them all seem lackluster and boring.
After a while, we find ourselves sitting on our couch, aimlessly scrolling through social media or trying to find the next thing to binge watch instead of getting out and engaging with life.
Much of the internet experience is based around instant gratification. As a result, the average attention span is shortening. This makes it harder to engage in more difficult activities that may provide meaning, excitement, or real entertainment. It takes time to master any endeavor.
We have to be patient enough to build and pursue the things we want, whether that’s a career, a family, or a more meaningful life.
Why is it so important to have a meaningful life?
The idea behind chronic dissatisfaction is that a person is regularly unhappy with the way their life is going or their current trajectory.
We cannot escape all examples of everyday monotony. No one likes to stand in lines, waste their time sitting in traffic, or attempt to act interested in pointless meetings.
These are sometimes a necessary part of moving through life. The ugly truth is, no one is ever going to be happy all the time. That’s an unreasonable expectation that will lead to more misery and dissatisfaction.
Chronic dissatisfaction occurs when a person is discontented with their overall life experience.
Perhaps the person has lived a quiet life, bouncing from meaningless job to meaningless job, shallow friendship to shallow friendship, hollow relationship to hollow relationship. They have a hard time finding joy in anything because it all feels so shallow and pointless.
That hollowness can fuel many unhealthy behaviors and illnesses – including drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and anxiety. Sometimes it’s the other way around, where depression is actually the cause of not feeling any joy or happiness in one’s life.
Those empty feelings can cause a person to engage in self-destructive behavior just to try to break up the tediousness of their life. Maybe they tear a relationship to the ground because they’re unhappy or sabotage other areas of their life to create some drama.
That does not mean that all downtime or being bored is a bad thing. It’s not. One must take time to rest and recuperate before they plunge into another hobby, venture, or adventure. If you don’t, you risk burning yourself out and finding yourself back at the start. Pacing oneself is important.
What does having a meaningful life mean to you?
The idea of a meaningful life is one that provides personal satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, and some degree of happiness.
Contrary to social media and vocal opinions, one should be wary of lumping happiness in with meaning. The two don’t always correlate.
As an example, perhaps there’s a social worker who is deeply entrenched in trying to help their clients improve their lives. That may bring a great deal of accomplishment and satisfaction, but it’s hard to watch people suffer day in and day out.
It would be strange to think one would find their happiness in struggle and the darker side of life, but some people do. Some people thrive on it.
Some prefer to be in conflict and fighting for something that means something to them, to be a part of something larger than themselves. And in turn, that provides them some degree of personal satisfaction and happiness, but it would be unwise to expect it.
Being immersed in and watching suffering on a regular basis can easily spiral a person into depression if they can’t compartmentalize and take care of themselves well.
People find meaning in different ways. For some, it will be working a career they are happy and excited with having. Others may find their meaning in cultivating and growing a loving family.
Some may find it in service to others or the vulnerable. Artists may find it in creation. Scientists may find it in discovery. There are an infinite number of routes, all of which are viable to some degree.
There is no set, singular path to happiness, meaning, and feeling content with life. Your path is going to be unique to you. It may share similarities with other people, but it’s going to be your mission to figure out what path makes the most sense to you and pursue it.
That does not mean you have to go it alone or that no one can assist you on your path, just that you shouldn’t expect anyone else to be able to simply hand it to you in a neat package with a bow on top. That’s unlikely to happen.
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How do I figure out what will provide meaning and happiness in my life?
It’s as simple as that.
It sounds contrived, but the only way for you to truly figure out what provides happiness, contentment, and meaning in your life is to actively engage in life and do things.
“But what if I don’t like it?”
Then you don’t. And you move on to another thing.
Even when you do things you don’t necessarily like or enjoy, you’re broadening your knowledge and perspective of the world, which gives you the ability to connect with more people and facilitate a better understanding of what you do and do not like.
Chances are pretty good you’ll do quite a few things you don’t like before you find meaningful things that you do.
Or maybe you won’t! Maybe you’ll try something new and find it provides contentment and fulfillment.
“But I can’t afford it!”
It doesn’t have to be expensive. You don’t have to be jetting off on some $5,000 trip to some tropical paradise to find yourself.
Get a library card, read or listen to some books. Do some volunteer work with the disadvantaged or animals. Be a mentor to someone who is looking to find their way. Take an art course at a local community center.
These things are all relatively inexpensive ways to grow as a person and experience new things without taking selfies at Machu Picchu or being mobbed by con artists and street vendors in Cairo.
The most important thing is to do stuff. Anything is better than nothing. If it’s not working for you, change the stuff that you’re doing and try something new.
What about society’s expectations of me?
The idealists, the artists, the free thinkers may find themselves bored and confined with the sometimes rigorous structure of social conformity. The problem is exacerbated by social pressure by one’s peers and groups to fit into an easy to understand, comfortable box.
The box is a comfortable place for some people. There are people out there who are more than happy to adopt the traditional perspective of what society expects from them because it offers a clear path, one that they believe will provide them with happiness and contentment.
The problem is that not everyone fits into that box. Even worse, society likes to heap shame, criticism, and derision on anyone that decides to stand out from the crowd and question the status quo.
The unfortunate truth is that this is unlikely to change. The free spirits of the world do need to be able to shrug off hostile expectations and unwarranted criticisms if they hope to find their own meaning and contentment in life, because the beaten path just isn’t meant for them.
Maybe they’re meant to do more. Maybe they’re meant to bring light into dark places, encourage free thought, and help break down the social barriers that negatively impact other people.
A free spirit is likely to stagnate and wither in a repressive, structured environment like a corporate hierarchy or as a stay-at-home parent.
Can they do these things? Sure. People can do plenty of things they are not necessarily suited for. Should they? Well, that is a question that can only be answered by that individual.
Even if they do, they are going to need to be able to flex their creativity and spirit if they want to stay interested and engaged in life. That may mean a yearly vacation to some place interesting, art or dance classes, or something to really encourage the core of their spirit and provide intellectual stimulation.
What can we do to break the boredom of life?
Before you can figure out the most appropriate ways to combat your boredom, you ought to examine the root causes of it.
Are you simply bored by the monotony of your life? Because you’re lonely? Because you don’t feel challenged?
Is your life boring because the people in your life bore you? Is there nothing in your future to get excited by?
Do you feel constrained by circumstances; unable to exert control over your life?
Have you got an untapped reservoir of energy and potential that needs an outlet?
Are you living an inauthentic life, trying to be someone that you’re not?
The more you can hone in on the cause(s) of your boredom with life, the more targeted you can be when you go out and engage with it.
Here are just a handful of things that you can try to alleviate your boredom.
1. Engage in volunteer or extracurricular work with an organization.
Volunteer work is an excellent way to branch out, meet new people, and contribute something positive to the world. There are many organizations that need everything from casual to skilled labor. You might even be able to put your professional skills and knowledge to work for a meaningful cause.
Another option is to join a professional organization related to your field. It helps not only to break up the boredom and monotony, but to network with new individuals who you may be able to develop professional relationships with.
2. Learn a new set of skills.
There are a lot of ways to go about developing a new set of skills. The internet is packed with videos and guides on how to get started in different activities.
You may also decide that going back to college to take some additional courses is a good idea. College coursework provides structure, guidance, and access to someone who is knowledgeable about the skill you are learning about. Online college can make it easier to attend classes if you have a busy life.
3. Develop new friendships in social settings.
Where do you find new friends? There may be local activities going on where you can meet other people from your area or hobby groups that feature regular meet ups.
Religious individuals may want to attend regular services or activities hosted by their place of worship. Local social media groups can be a good place to find activities or meet ups.
4. Travel to a place that you’ve never been.
Travel doesn’t need to be far off and remote to help bring some excitement to your life. It can be as simple as heading out of town to some function where you can have a good time and relax.
Maybe an out of town concert and a night in a hotel? A trek to a national park or other natural attraction? Or maybe save up some money and strike out a bit further afield for a bigger change of scenery. Even a day long road trip can be a nice break from one’s day-to-day life.
5. Look for a new job or change careers.
It’s not unusual for people to eventually get bored with their choice of job or career. They may even find that they made the wrong choice in what career to pursue and need to look at other options.
The choice to quit a job and/or change career paths is never a light one, but may be necessary to find more happiness and peace in your life.
Some are simply too demanding of time or emotional energy. Others may not provide enough stimulation or give you the room to grow that you really want. If you’re not happy or satisfied with your career, it may be time to start looking for a change.
6. Get active and exercise.
Activity and exercise are so beneficial to one’s physical and mental health. Doctors are calling a sedentary lifestyle the new smoking in regard to health risks.
And with many jobs taking place behind a desk for a large part of the day, it’s no wonder that people are getting more depressed about their lives.
People need exercise to help boost feel good chemicals that your body produces when you engage in those activities. Start small and set some goals to get out and get active. And if you are already active, set some stronger goals – like finishing a marathon or improving your capabilities.
7. Create some art.
The artists of the world are often driven to create in some way or another. There are a lot of people who get derailed because of the opinions of others or because life simply denies them the appropriate time.
An artist who has stopped creating should consider getting back into it. Art helps to flex the creative mind and provides a sense of pride and accomplishment in one’s work.
Join a healthy community of artists who practice the same medium and work on improving and finishing your works. You don’t have to be great at it. Very few people are. The important thing is to embrace your art if it brings you happiness.
8. Spend more quality time with your loved ones and cut out toxic people.
It is a well-known fact that spending more quality time with your loved ones causes the mind to produce several feel good chemicals like endorphins.
It’s too easy to let one’s friendships and relationships slide with how busy life can be for everyone. One must try to keep those relationships intact by making an effort to stay in touch with their friends and family.
That often means going to gatherings and things you don’t necessarily feel like or want to go to. There’s a common thread of not wanting to be social or being too tired to participate, but if you fall into that pattern, life will leave you behind.
Attend things when you’re invited, or try to throw a party of your own if you don’t have much going on.
And do consider cutting toxic people out of your life if there are any. They are an intense drain on one’s happiness and peace of mind.
9. Find a purpose or a cause greater than yourself.
People like to belong. They also like to contribute to something bigger than themselves. Finding a purpose or cause to align yourself and your skills with can provide a sense of pride and happiness in making a difference in the world.
That may sound easier said than done, but really there are a lot of movements and groups out there that are trying to make positive changes in the world that you can be a part of.
10. Set and pursue goals that will give you a sense of accomplishment.
Goal setting is an essential part of self-improvement and feeling as though one is accomplishing things in their life.
It’s easy to drift without aim or direction, but doing so deprives you of the ability to feel like you picked something you wanted to do and accomplish it, a feeling that can provide a nice hit of dopamine when you cross it off of your to-do list and gain momentum.
There are many approaches to goal setting, but generally one would want to set short, medium, and long-term goals for their life. They might be related to your health, career, personal life, or hobbies.
11. Stop doing things that don’t excite you or bring you joy.
Earlier we spoke about trying new things to find those which bring you happiness and meaning. But what about all the things you are doing right now that don’t deliver either of those feelings?
Consider stopping them. This doesn’t mean you can shirk all your current responsibilities. After all, if you have others who depend on you to provide for and/or care for them, you must fulfill those commitments.
But look at your life and at the things you do and ask yourself whether they really mean anything to you.
Perhaps you shop just for the sake of shopping. Or you watch the news every night just to fill the time. Or maybe you party hard every Friday night simply because all your friends do it and you’ve always done it.
If something no longer feels worthy of your time, don’t do it.
Please note: it is important that you speak to a professional to identify if you are suffering from depression before you give up on things that may have once brought you joy. As stated earlier in the article, depression can be the reason you feel bored and joyless.
A life without boredom…
…is a life pursued with purpose. It doesn’t really matter what your purpose is, so long as you can find one.
The best way to find one is to just get out there and start doing things. You may find that the things you choose to do don’t necessarily lead you to excitement or happiness, but they may provide you with the knowledge, experience, or people you need to step onto another path.
Don’t let malaise or depression derail you. Get back out there and keep trying. And if you do find that it is exceptionally difficult or that you can’t find a direction on your own, it may be worthwhile to seek assistance from a certified mental health counselor or life coach.
Don’t hesitate to seek out help if you are having a hard time and aren’t sure what direction to go.