understanding boredom bored at workSometimes I pine for a boring Saturday. Depleted by a long week of teaching, writing, and caring for my family, I want a day at home, talking to nobody, and getting nothing done. At the end of a long day of watching the proverbial paint dry, I am refreshed and ready to connect.

I have always called these days “boring,” ashamed of my habit of hiding away from the world. But recently I’ve wondered if my so-called boring days may not be the way to fight boredom. Perhaps crazy-busy days have become the tiresome routine, and rare lulls in activity the antidote.

A brief lesson in the neuroscience of understanding boredom

Psychologists theorize that boredom is related to dopamine, the neurotransmitter that completes a circuit resulting in a feeling of reward. Boring activities can cause a dopamine drought, but it’s equally likely that an imbalance in brain chemistry can cause some individuals to be more prone to boredom than others. Those with easily-bored brains require vastly larger thrills to experience a reward, explaining the popularity of bungee jumps and roller coasters. Others of us have brains that are easily overstimulated. Instead of an amusement park, my brain requires a long walk and some time alone to read so I can sync with the world.

The opposite of bored

Understanding boredom as an internal state rather than a punishment inflicted by a cruel, dull world may be the first step to learning how to fight against it, and regain the pleasurable state of feeling captivated by our lives.

The trick is tuning into our boredom, not turning away. When life drags us down, convincing us that the world has nothing to offer, that’s the time when we need to find some other way to engage, a different route to the joy of being in flow, happily at home in the world. We can all learn what we each need to feel un-bored—whether that means more excitement, or a quiet day at home.

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