Samuel Johnson wrote, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.” Little things make us happy, and little things can drag us down.
One “little thing” that can be a source of unhappiness is boredom. Sitting in traffic. Doing laundry. Waiting in a long line at the grocery store.
I’ve found that the more I focus on my boredom or irritation, the more I amplify that feeling. Here are six strategies I use to “re-frame” the moment; even if I can’t escape a situation, by re-framing my emotions about it, I can transform it.
– Put the word “meditation” after the activity that’s boring you.
(This is my invention.) If you’re standing in a slow line at the drugstore, you’re doing “Waiting in line meditation.” If you’re cleaning up after a party, you’re doing “Cleaning meditation.” Just saying these words makes me feel very spiritual and high-minded and wise.
– Dig in.
Diane Arbus wrote, “The Chinese have a theory that you pass through boredom into fascination and I think it’s true.” If something is boring for two minutes, do it for four minutes. If it’s still boring, do it for eight minutes, then sixteen, and so on. Eventually you discover that it’s not boring at all. In my life, I’ve found that if part of my research isn’t interesting to me — for example, studying the Dardanelles campaign for Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill.
– I read a whole book about it, and then it becomes absorbing.
The same principle holds when doing boring or irritating tasks, like washing dishes.
– Take the perspective of a journalist or scientist.
Really study what’s around you. What are people wearing, what do the interiors of buildings look like, what noises do you hear? If you bring your analytical powers to bear, you can make almost anything interesting.
– Find an area of refuge.
Have a mental escape route planned. Think about something delightful or uplifting (not your to-do list!). Or maybe review photos of your kids on your phone; studies show that looking at photos of loved ones provides a big mood boost.
– Take your time.
I realize that when information bores me, like trying to understand a change-of-service notice from the cable company, I try to rush through it. This makes things worse, though, not better, because I feel not only bored, but also impatient and confused. Now, when I have to make sense of something that’s both boring and bewildering, I deliberately slow myself down and take all the time I need. My resolution to Put myself in jail is helpful.
Most important: always have something good to read!
A version of this post originally appeared on Gretchen Rubin’s website, where she writes about her experiments in the pursuit of happiness and good habits.