mature woman bored

Making Boredom Work for You

Boredom isn’t about having nothing to do, according to experts at Harvard Medical School. Instead, there’s a cause many people aren’t aware of.

As an example, an article in the Harvard Women’s Health Watch cites sitting quietly, watching the sun set – and being absorbed by the sight, compared with sitting in traffic and being bored.

“What makes the difference [between the two examples] is whether during a low-stimulation moment, there are unpleasant feelings in the background. Many of us habitually distract ourselves from unpleasant feelings through entertainment or activity—like checking our smartphones, or watching TV,” says Dr. Ronald Siegel, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and the medical editor of the Harvard Special Health Report Positive Psychology.

“Sometimes when there is little to engage us, those unpleasant feelings bubble into our consciousness and we feel something unpleasant, which we identify as boredom. Other times we’re content to just be present—like when enjoying a sunset.”

In the article, Siegel cites two ways to beat boredom:

Create your own distractions. If you’re bored, do something that can provoke interest. Siegel suggests, for example, thinking of where you’d like to go on your next vacation. But, Siegel emphasizes, don’t let any unpleasant feelings resulting from boredom lead you to distractions like overeating, drinking too much or shopping compulsively.

Take a closer look at your boredom. What’s going on? The next time you’re bored, try to figure out what’s going on. The Harvard experts say you might be feeling anxiety, sadness, or annoyance. Then you can get to the source of your feelings, the article says.  Explore your underlying emotions. The next time you’re bored, ask yourself exactly what you’re experiencing at the moment. “Once you have turned your attention to these underlying emotions you’ll find that there’s actually a lot going on in every moment,” Siegel says.

If you’re chronically bored, though, you should consider getting counseling. Persistent boredom, the article says, can be a sign of a more serious condition such as depression or attention deficit disorder.

For more information on how to improve your outlook and attitude, click here to order the Harvard Special Health Report, Positive Psychology.