This may come as a shock to my non-bored readers, but one of
the most frequent search phrases that brings traffic to my blog is “boredom in
retirement.” For those that landed here from that search, I hope I can help you
Some new retirees feel bored because they can’t figure out
what to do next. They are so overwhelmed
by the reality of getting to do anything they want, that they aren’t sure what
they want. If that sounds like you, read
this post. Others might have had no
problem with boredom initially, but now find they are having trouble shaking
it. If that sounds like you, read
But first, let me suggest that boredom may be getting a bum
to this article, boredom may actually have some benefits. “It forces
the brain to go on interesting tangents, perhaps fostering creativity. And
because most of us are almost consistently plugged into one screen or another
these days, we don’t experience the benefits of boredom.”
York University professor John Eastwood explains that boredom
is just “wanting to, but being unable to engage in satisfying activity.” He goes on to distinguish boredom from apathy.
“The [bored] person is not engaged but
wants to be. With apathy, he said, there
is no urge to do something.”
Gary Marcus, professor of psychology at N.Y.U points out
that, “ ‘the brain doesn’t always know the most appropriate thing to do. If
you’re bored and use that energy to play guitar and cook, it will make you
happy. But if you watch TV, it may make you happy in the short term, but not in
the long-term.” Which supports my
theory that you need to engage both in activities that make you feel good, and activities that
make you feel good about yourself.
Eastwood thinks that, “what people are really searching for
. . . ‘is a way to unplug and enjoy down time.
In an environment where we are constantly overstimulated . . . it’s hard
to find ways to engage when the noise shuts down’.”
In an over-stimulating world, sometimes I yearn for a little
bit of boredom. Last year, I actually
looked forward to my 14-hour plane flight to Australia, just so I’d have some forced
downtime to entertain boredom. Katrina Onstead would probably understand. In her ode
to boredom she asks, “What is a holiday, really, but an opportunity to pay for
You don’t have to wait for a long flight to Australia to
force you to tap into the creative benefits of boredom. Author, Silas
House suggests you just get over your fear of being still. For creative types, writers in particular, he
explains how “we writers must learn how to become still in our heads, to
achieve the sort of stillness that allows our senses to become heightened.” He goes on to give tips for achieving this
kind of stillness while you are doing other stuff. Other stuff like driving to work, waiting in
line at the DMV, or mowing your lawn. In
other words, other stuff that could be considered boring, which sounds like a great way to kill two birds
with one stone.
I recently wrote that people may feel
bored in retirement simply because they are overwhelmed by the unlimited
number of choices they now face. Immobilized by fear of choosing the wrong thing, they
choose nothing at all and wind up bored.
But there is another culprit responsible for boredom in
adaptation. Maybe you never experienced boredom when you first retired. Maybe you
basked in the freedom to go to the movies in the middle of the day or linger
over lunch with a friend. Maybe you
relished the general absence
of hurrying. But at some point, the novelty
wore off. Even though you’re doing
those same things that used to make you happy, they just don’t seem to make you
happy anymore. Now they are just normal.
adaptation is that phenomenon that eventually brings you back to earth
after experiencing a positive life change like winning the lottery, getting
married, or retiring. After an initial
period of euphoria, you eventually get used to your newfound riches of money,
love, or time, and return to the level of happiness you enjoyed before the
Yesterday’s New York Times had a great
article about how hedonic adaptation applies to love and marriage. According to the article, we are
“biologically hard-wired to crave variety.
Variety and novelty affect the brain in much the same way that drugs do
— that is, they trigger activity that involves the neurotransmitter dopamine,
as do pharmacological highs.”
So how do you recapture the high that you enjoyed right after you retired? Well, you’re going to have to change
it up a bit. The same old same old isn’t
going to cut it. You’ve got to
introduce some variety, and for those that are going to be retired for decades,
you’re going to have to do this over and over again.
The key is to balance what makes you feel good with what makes you feel good about yourself.
I recently volunteered to join the finance committee of an
educational non-profit in my community. It’s a novel experience for me and I’m kind
of learning as I go along. But I'm
getting a charge from meeting new people and from being part of something that is
doing such great work to help kids and their teachers. On the days that I’m engaged with the group,
I feel good about myself.
I’ve also gotten back into my yoga routine. While you might think this is an activity
that feels good, it doesn’t
feel good until it’s over. It would only be a slight exaggeration to equate it to torture. Bikram Yoga
is practiced in an extremely hot studio and the 26 poses are very
challenging. I find myself constantly
negotiating the line between working hard enough to get the benefits, but not
so hard that I throw up. On days that I
go to yoga, I feel good about myself.
And while housework and yard work are not really activities
that make me feel good, I sure do feel good about myself when I manage to
tackle a little bit each day.
It’s not just about finding new things that make you feel
good. Taking a nap in the middle of the
day, enjoying lunch with a friend, or reading a good book--these are all things
that make you feel good. They contribute
to your hedonic well-being. But to get
that retirement high back, you're also going to have to include things that contribute
to your eudaimonic
well-being. That’s why my
favorite days in retirement have been the ones where I find the perfect balance
between activities that make me feel good, and activities that make me feel
good about myself.