At first, I wasn’t entirely sure what the difference was between boredom and unhappiness. upon further contemplation, however, it became clear to me why it was an essential topic to discuss. I began my journey of exploration into the world of boredom by reading about its psychology. Despite being such a common feeling, the science of boredom is still relatively new. In fact, only recently did psychologist John Eastwood try to give a definition of boredom within the scientific community.
In his 2012 paper, “The Unengaged Mind: Defining Boredom in Terms of Attention,” Eastwood hypothesized that boredom is more than the common refrain, “I have nothing to do!” Someone who is bored wants to have something to do and wants to feel engaged—but isn’t. He defined boredom as, “the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity.” What is satisfying will differ from person to person, and in the same vein, the nature of boredom itself will also vary.
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Although it is not always easy to tell, people who are happy generally feel positive emotions more often than negative ones. Positive emotions can include joy, interest, and pride, whereas negative emotions may be sadness, anxiety, or anger. If you’re bored, it might not seem like a big deal, but psychologists will tell you that it can be a marker of real unhappiness and even depression. Here are five questions to help you determine how you’re feeling, and what to do about it:
1. Is This Feeling Beginning To Affect Other Areas of Your Life?
“A key difference between unhappiness and boredom lies in pervasiveness,” says therapist Melody Wilding.“To assess if you’re truly unhappy, run a check of the other areas of your life. Is your low mood reserved for work and the office alone, or is it invading your personal life? If it’s damaging your friendships or romantic relationships, or you feel completely unmotivated and uninterested on weekends and to pursue your own hobbies, it’s a bigger sign you’re heading for burnout, or worse, facing real depression.”
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2. Are You Feeling Stuck and Not Sure What To Do Next?
Shahla Khan, author of “The Unhappy Worker: How to Spot the signs and what to do about it,” says that unhappiness at work is Abusive bosses. Overtime hours. Underpaid salary. can often lead to feelings of disengagement. “Typically boredom in the workplace comes from not being challenged or acknowledged enough, whereas unhappiness in the workplace comes from all sorts of other areas,” agrees career and business coach Rachel Ritlop. “Unhappiness can come from toxicity in the workplace or deeper rooted insecurities, such as fear of rejection or criticism.”
3. What Is Your Body Telling You?
“If you’re bored in your job, you may find yourself counting down the hours of the day, groaning and moaning that the weekend is over, or that you have to go into work the next morning; whereas if you’re unhappy you will find yourself having a more visceral reaction,” says Ritlop. For instance, waking up in the middle of the night with your stomach in knots, having work-related nightmares, and high anxiety levels at the office during the day.”
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4. Are You Feeling Stuck and Not Sure What To Do Next?
“If you have plenty of challenging work, but find yourself clenching your teeth at work, have a tense stomach or dread Mondays, you are unhappy,” says Joni Holderman, founder of Thrive! Resumes. “If you feel that there is a ton of work but it’s not sufficiently challenging, or there’s no room for growth in your current position, you’re bored.”
5. Do You Often Find Yourself Feeling Angry?
Stacy Kaiser’s explanation of how boredom and anger are linked hits home more than I would like to admit. “Interestingly enough, boredom is actually rooted in the emotion of anger, not sadness or depression,” she says. “It’s anger that you’re in this situation, anger that you can’t leave the room, anger that you’re doing something repetitive, and so on. Unhappiness is more about being disappointed, let down or sad. When you feel bored, ask yourself what you’re angry about in that situation.”
So now that you know what you’re feeling, how are you supposed to respond?
1. Take Some Time for Yourself. Relax.
“When in a negative state of mind, we can fall into thought traps,” says Wilding. “Just because you’re bored or feeling unhappy, it doesn’t mean that you are incapable or insufficient. Instead of blaming yourself for character faults, pinpoint the precise situation that’s bringing you down, whether that’s poor work-life balance, work that doesn’t use your skills, or toxic co-workers.”
2. Keep Yourself Accountable so You Don’t Get Bored.
“Sometimes we’re bored because we aren’t doing the right things to motivate ourselves,” says John Addison, CEO of Addison Leadership Group. “I am a firm believer of how important it is to constantly sharpen your edge as a person, so instead of approaching your job as ‘another day here,’ talk to your boss, look for new projects, and find ways to improve and raise your energy level.”
Instead of recurrently fixating on the negative aspects of your job, Addison says to make a list of everything you appreciate about it. “We live in a world with such constant stimulation—social media, technology, news—that everyone thinks everything should be constantly exciting,” Addison says. “Take a look at the situation [keeping this in mind] and ask yourself, ‘Is the job boring, or am I allowing myself to just become bored?’”
3. Improve the Situation by Setting Specific, Achievable Goals.
“Once you’ve identified what’s triggering your feelings, come up with action steps to change your situation,” Ritlop says. “And if you aren’t already working with a coach or therapist, I strongly recommend you enlist an accountability buddy.” Once you have decided on goals to change your workplace for the better, put events in your calendar (every four weeks, or every three months—whatever feels right) so that you can track your progress and reassess your workplace rationally.
4. Don’t Be Afraid To Move On When the Time Is Right.
If you’re unhappy at work and have tried to talk to your boss or find a new solution without any luck (meaning you’ve checked in more than three times according to the schedule from step three), it’s time for something different. “Whether you’re bored or unhappy, if you’ve tried to implement positive changes with no success, it’s time to launch a proactive job search,” says Holderman. “The old adage that it’s easier to find a job when you have a job is really true.”