Excerpts from “The Union Review” May 2020 Erin C. Westgate
More and more of us are staying home to slow down the spreading coronavirus. But being stuck at home can lead to boredom. Boredom is a signal that we are not meaningful engaged with the world. It tells us to stop what we are doing and do it better or to do something else. But, as a social psychologist who studies boredom, I know that people do not always make the best choices when bored. So, if you are stuck at home, dutifully practicing your social distancing, how do you keep boredom away?
We can feel bored even with jobs and activities that appear to be meaningful. For example, researchers have found anesthesiologists and air traffic controllers find themselves bored on the job. What this research reveals are that just because something is objectively meaningful does not mean it feels that way to us all the time. And even meaningful work can be boring if the person performing it finds it too hard or too easy. Once that happens, individuals might struggle to stay focused. Reducing boredom requires that individuals solve the problems that produced it. not having sufficient activities that are both meaningful and optimally challenging.
Like all emotions, boredom is about whatever you are thinking now. That means, staying at home will only feel meaningful when we are actively thinking about the greater good it does. For instance, in studies, when students were prompted to reflect on why their schoolwork mattered to them personally, researchers found that their interest in learning increased. In other words, reframing our activity changes how we feel about it.
Creating simple reminders, such as a note on the fridge, or a morning meditation, can help us keep the big picture in view: