According to new research, Americans are the least happy they’ve been in 50 years—and it’s not the most shocking of news, because, well…gestures about wildly. A recent NORC at the University of Chicago study compared 50 years of trends regarding well-being, and revealed that a record-low 14 percent of Americans report being “very happy.” What’s especially interesting about this depressing finding, though, is that following previous national tragedies, like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and 9/11, Americans typically reported being in a dazed, tearful haze. Now, though, more people are reporting being short-tempered or just bored. Perhaps it’s because we’re in the midst of a ongoing, long-haul disaster rather than a singular event, but regardless, it’s clear that dealing with boredom is a big-time pandemic plight.
While one person’s specific 2020 reality may look radically different from another’s, it all still mostly sucks. With monotony as a common pandemic thread, you might well be dealing with boredom if you’re already not preoccupied by loneliness, uncertainty anxiety, anger, or any of the other cute emotions ripe to plague you right now. And according to clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear Carla Marie Manly, PhD, given that our society relies so heavily on external stimulation and instant gratification, in the absence of those, many of us are dealing with anger in a way that feels uncomfortable (hint: boredom).
“The pandemic and resulting quarantine has emphasized our reliance on the external rather than the internal world. People often feel tremendously bored when they are not engaged with or entertained by something external.” —clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD
“The pandemic and resulting quarantine has emphasized our reliance on the external rather than the internal world,” says Dr. Manly. “People often feel tremendously bored when they are not engaged with or entertained by something external. As the term ‘boredom’ carries such negative energy, I’ve come to use the terms ‘quiet space’ or ‘down time’ to emphasize that the free spaces in life don’t need to be boring and can, in fact, be very healing and freeing.”
If you find yourself dealing with boredom in a way that’s leaving you feeling discomfort or otherwise unhappy, you might just need some tips for learning how to sit with it in a peaceful way. Below, Dr. Manly shares four.
Dealing with boredom doesn’t have to make you unhappy—here are 4 ways to make sure of it:
1. Find an appreciation for niksen
For the uninformed, niksen is the Danish art of doing nothing, and it’s a concept that’s really healthy to embrace, especially within a culture that’s ripe for burnout.
“As ‘boring’ generally means that one finds something tedious or uninteresting, the first step to enjoying life’s quiet spaces is to create a mind-set shift that says ‘I may be doing nothing right now, but doing nothing feels good right now,’” says Dr. Manly.
2. Breathe with intention
Dr. Manly suggests you pause to notice your breathing by focusing on each slow inhalation and exhalation for at least two minutes. Be where you are, and try not to focus on the reality that you’re sitting alone on the couch in your apartment or arguing with a voice-messaging system about your unemployment claim, or having your eyes glaze over during a blasé Zoom birthday party.
3. Become aware of your body
The next step in dealing with boredom and reimagining it to be less of a negative is to notice your being. “You might find yourself breathing slowly and saying, ‘I feel calm right now. My heartbeat is slow and rhythmic. My anxiety has ebbed away,’” Dr. Manly says.
4. Show gratitude and appreciation for this moment
“You might say, ‘My body feels heavy and relaxed. My mind wants to chatter, but it’s slowly letting go. My spirit feels light and free. I feel very peaceful,’” Dr. Manly says.
If you do this successfully, you’ll have allowed yourself to acclimate your entire being to a slower pace. And if questioning thoughts or mental chatter do start up? No biggie. “Just allow yourself to let go of the thoughts with nonjudgmental objectivity,” says Dr. Manly. “If you want to go further, you can try a guided meditation online. Like any new behavior, the more you practice letting go of doing and allowing yourself to just be, the more comfortable it will feel.”
Hopefully, by following these steps, you’ll be able to find a sense of peace while dealing with boredom. After all, boredom can be a privilege, and plenty of people would love to experience endless amounts of it. So work to appreciate and even enjoy the space.
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