Battling Boredom and Depression

Posted on August 19, 2014 by Robert Ringer


More people die of suicide each year than in car accidents, yet there remains something of a taboo when it comes to broaching the subject.  In that respect, the one good thing that has come from the tragic death of Robin Williams is that it has once again put the public spotlight on depression and suicide.

In addition to Williams, other examples of rich and famous people who have suffered from depression include Mike Wallace, Terry Bradshaw, Art Buchwald, Mike Tyson, Woody Allen, Jim Carrey, Calvin Coolidge, Marilyn Monroe … the list goes on and on.  Thus, the empirical evidence strongly suggests that neither fame nor fortune makes one immune to depression, though either or both of them might actually increase one’s chances of becoming depressed.

I would venture a guess that virtually everyone — even the most outwardly positive folks — has experienced depression at one time or another.  It’s part and parcel to the kaleidoscope of human emotions.

That said, the causes of depression vary widely.  Some of the more common of these include natural chemical imbalances in the brain, drugs (both legal and illegal), brain injuries, loss of a loved one, and an infinite variety of personal disappointments, rejections, and failures (especially financial failures).

However, when people tell me they’re depressed, the most common reason they give for it is boredom.  So the question becomes, what causes boredom?  In looking back over my life, I’ve tried to identify those times when I was the most bored, and the period that pops out at me most glaringly is when I lived in Beverly Hills.

Once I began to experience a taste of fame and fortune, I quickly became addicted to buying stuff — especially expensive stuff.  It was as though I were on a mission to outspend my ignorance.  I must have shelled out close to a quarter of a million dollars on clothes during a five-year span — Armani, Versace, Gucci — you name it.

Today, I don’t have a stitch of that quarter of a million dollars’ worth of clothing left.  And, on reflection, I can say that, other than a temporary high, I experienced zero happiness from either buying or wearing any of it.

I also remember my wife and I spending hours on weekends leisurely strolling on Rodeo Drive, the jewel of Beverly Hills.  I don’t know the precise time, but I recall at some point telling my wife that I was bored stiff, that there had to be more to life than just buying clothes, pounding the pavement in the “Golden Triangle,” and eating poached eggs topped with caviar at Café Rodeo for brunch.

Some people believe (or want to believe) that the best antidote to boredom is spontaneity … lots of fun and excitement … you know, “let it all hang out.”  I know about this kind of mind-set, because when I was single, I dated a gal who was obsessed with “having a good time.”  She constantly talked about how bored she was, and was totally convinced that spontaneity was the solution to her boredom.

She talked incessantly about activities like hang gliding, water skiing, skydiving, riding in hot air balloons … the more dangerous the activity, the better.  She also loved to get smashed, which reduced her feminine appeal by a factor of ten.

Try dealing with that kind of personality when your own idea of an exciting evening is a quiet dinner at a gourmet restaurant followed by watching a good movie at home.  Hmm … I think they refer to it as incompatible. 

If you look at life through the wrong prism, there’s no question it can seem very boring.  After all, life is endless repetition — getting up in the morning, shaving, brushing your teeth, showering, dressing, eating breakfast (especially my breakfast, which has been an apple and banana for the past twenty years), and so on through the day.

But since all of these tasks come under the heading of things you cannot change, why bother to think about them?  After all, even Bill Gates has to shave, brush his teeth, and shower.

With all due respect to my girlfriend of long ago, my own experience has convinced me that the solution to depression is not spontaneous living, engaging in daredevil activities, traveling, or shopping to the point of exhaustion.  And it’s certainly not drugs or alcohol.

Nor is it vacations.  Living for the next vacation is a bad idea, because vacations have a short shelf life.   It’s what’s in between vacations that is known as real life.

For me, some of the more important keys to keeping boredom at bay include:

  1. Having a meaningful purpose in life.  If you don’t know what your purpose is, think about it for as long as it takes to figure it out.  Hint:  It’s probably connected to something you’re naturally good at.  There is nothing more boring than meaninglessness.
  2. Developing a daily routine and learning to enjoy having your life under control.  Routines do not stifle; they liberate.  The most boring life I can imagine is one in which you are in a constant state of turmoil — projects not getting done, having to spend inordinate amounts of time looking for a document (either in your computer or a file cabinet), encountering car problems because you haven’t gotten around to servicing your vehicle for an eternity … you get the idea.
  3. Making a conscious effort to feel good about the important things in your life — your spouse, your children, your skills, etc.  Materiality is way down on the list.
  4. Being conscious of (but not dwelling on) the bad things that you don’t have to deal with — such as a terrible disease, illness, or other serious medical problem.  Everyone has health issues, but that should not stop you from appreciating the health issues you don’t haveThe reason that thinking about the absence of something takes conscious effort is because we normally take for granted an invaluable asset such as good health.
  5. Learning to focus on, and enjoy, whatever you’re doing at any given moment.  Live in the here and now by developing the self-discipline to take your mind’s chatterbox off autopilot.  Say no to mental time travel!
  6. Making it a habit to consciously think about how great it is just to be alive.  Take some deep, relaxing breaths throughout the day.  Look closely at nature’s endless wonders.  Think about how remarkable it is that, through one method or another, you (along with the rest of the human species) are the only collection of atoms that have been put together in such a way as to be able to reflect on your own existence.  That’s big!

Finally, overarching the above items is that boredom, to a great extent, is a matter of perception — i.e., how you look at things.  And, as I’ve pointed out many times, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.



Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

30 responses to “Battling Boredom and Depression”

  1. laleydelexito says:

    First! =)

  2. Dachia says:

    My interests perks up when people mention "purpose" and "meaning." I am very involved in research concerning these topics, and self-actualization, the top of Maslow Hierarchy of Needs. I am also a fan of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and FLOW. Along with other great thinkers (in my opinion, of course) i think that there are two levels of purpose. Our outward or physical purpose serves our intrinsic purpose, which is self-actualization, meaning, fulfilling our opportunities.

  3. Gordon says:

    As someone who is almost never bored, you have given me reason to consider why this may be. I am retired, with a general daily routine, but with considerable daily variation, but I think that the real reason is that I am comfortable with who I am and where I am heading, and to the extent that I am not comfortable with myself, I work to change so that I resolve the discomfort. I read a lot, I think about what I have read, and once in a while I fire off an idea to someone else who may (or may not) find it interesting.

    With regard to the girlfriend you mentioned, I have had to associate with such people at times, but to the extent possible I avoid them, and it seems fairly easy because as soon as such people start to get to know me, they seem to quickly remember that they needed to be somewhere else an hour ago. My suspicion, unconfirmed by any research, is that they tend NOT to be comfortable with themselves, and thus are constantly seeking distractions from the poverty of their personal development. In any case, I can't fix them, so I don't worry about them.

    • John E. Gabor says:

      Ditto. People warned me I'd be bored when I retired. But in retirement I've found there aren't enough hours in the day.

  4. Norela says:

    I agree with you 100% Robert. I am not really a good writer yet so pardon me for my language or grammar. Having faith is what keep me going through the tough times. I was raised to be thankful and appreciative of what I have and continue working to achieve my dream, even in my 50's (LOL). Just like this quote that I have heard somewhere before "I had no shoes and complained, until I met a man who had no feet."

  5. Gary says:

    Robert, I have chronic depression, but manage it well with medication and activities that are meaningful to me: doing taxes, blogging, playing string bass and reading. Having a dog and a cat helps too. Shutting off the chatterbox of the mind helps a lot, as you mentioned. It is that negative voice that reminds you of every failure and foolishness that you ever experienced, telling you that you are a fool, an idiot, that you will never be good enough. We all have that voice, and being consciously aware of it takes away most of its power.

  6. Tex says:

    Excellent list of suggestions, Robert. I would add to that list with 1)Continue to expand your Bucket List and 2)Never continue doing something after it is no-longer fun to do. I certainly acknowledge there can be a medical problem as a root cause, but I also believe mental laziness is a much greater risk than the medical.

  7. Mark says:

    The only true happiness comes from within as all great masters have taught! Watch what is going on around you but do not get to attached to it. When your happiness is based on some outcome then you are succumbing to desires. And then the real trouble begins. Lucky Robert you recognized it. Many do not.

  8. One of the reasons for the increase in depression (and other mental problems) is the official government diet, now called "MyPlate." This monstrosity conceived by politicians (pushed by "researchers" such as Ancel Keys, who basically fabricated their data, or just cherry-picked) who know (knew — past tense in the case of George McGovern) less than nothing about nutrition has caused more suffering and premature death than all of the wars in history.

    This travesty is perpetuated by a pharma industry whose primary motivation is to make you sick (without actually killing you), because that's where the money is. Think about this: If you are healthy and not taking any medications, you are worthless to the pharma industry. On the other hand, if you have "high cholesterol" (a fictitious disease), you can be "treated" with a muscle toxin that has been shown to increase all-cause mortality and reduce quality of life in *every* group on which it has be tested (except one), then you can be prescribed a pill for each of the dozen or so side-effects of statins, and each or those pills will have additional side-effects for which yet another pill can be prescribed. You become the motherlode.

    If you find a senior taking more than a dozen medications, you can improve the health and quality of life of that senior by simply removing *all* of those medications, without doing anything else. There are (a very few) exceptions, including IDDM, who need to continue insulin.

    But back to the topic at hand. Several researchers (and a few doctors) have independently discovered that a diet low in sugars, totally without grain of any kind, and lots of natural saturated fat, not only improves the health, but is more effective in treating a variety of mental illnesses, including depression, than any pharmaceutical.

    • Dachia says:

      While I disagree with most of what you have said, I wil agree that a good diet (plant-based, obviously) and appropriate exercise can do wonders for mental and emotional health and fitness, just as it does for physical.

    • Philosophizer says:

      Well I happen to agree with everything you said because it is true! Big Pharma is the greatest hoax perpetrated in America. They are the second most profitable industry in the country, just behind Banks. There is hardly ever any reason for anyone to be taking pills. There are far better natural remedies in most cases. In fact, there is one general remedy that works for almost anything, and that is oils from a wide variety of natural botanical plant life.

      There is no money in this for Big Pharma as these are natural products, and not artificial chemicals that BP has to provide. I wonder when Mankind will finally figure this one out?

      Go to the "tick tock" doctors and before you leave the office they want to put you on Anti-Depressants no matter what is wrong with you. So as we see, BP and the "doctors" are in on this, so just be aware, and take anything doctors say with a grain of salt…and get off those pills.

    • Patrick says:

      Good point, how much sugar and grain does one need to survive? Not a whole lot. Not much for taxes, but there does need to be some sort of disease tax on these products, so that those who consume much more than they would ever need and get sick, are paying up front for the medical care they are going to need and those who refrain from such avoid the tax altogether instead of paying for it for others. 100 years ago people were lucky to get 5 pounds of sugar a year, and not much in the way of sweeteners back then. Now it's about 150 pounds of sugar and another 75 pounds in sweeteners. No wonder why people get such nasty diseases. Time to reign in Madison Ave and the medical industry much in the same way tobacco and alcohol have been bombarded with PSA's. Just saying consume everything in moderation is not enough. Especially when taxpayers are footing the bill for medical expenses.

  9. larajf says:

    I couldn't agree more with everything you said. I want to get a tattoo on my left wrist that says "I choose to be happy right now" I struggle often with staying in the moment especially with my loved ones.
    I think if we are happy and grateful for what we have, and we stay in the present, then we can have those meaningful connections with others that our soul craves. And then we can feel less guilty when we have our solitary time to recharge.

  10. NoSpin says:

    For me, Christ as the Spirit and the Word is the enduring answer to boredom. I have tested these for 50+ years through thick and thin, and have never found anything that comes close.

  11. american real says:

    In regards to high-profile people, "suicide" is often staged to cover up a murder/assassination — and to create a cultural conversation about needing to medicate people and to keep "depressed" people under control. Just sayin'…

    • Jurgy says:

      Really??? – I think it is much more likely that many high-profile people become high-profile as a means to combat their depression, just like so many depressed people develop addictions, looking for a way to avoid the feelings of depression.

    • Jean says:

      I actually think that a lot of the "high profile" people who commit suicide do so because they know deep in their hearts that they don't live up to their press releases. Consider Marilyn Monroe – she constantly had to put on the appearance of the confident sexpot with every hair in place, wearing gowns that were designed against nature. Imagine the day she discovered that if she ate too many sweets, she actually GAINED WEIGHT – and not in all the right places! Or that being beautiful was not a guarantee that your relationships would be perfect (she was used like a dog by Sinatra, Kennedy, etc.) Still, she had to maintain her public face. Talk about dissonance. Living a lie is a great way to be chronically depressed. If there was a "conspiracy" here it involved the movie studios, her agent, the press and everyone else who profited from her public persona.

  12. Landbroker says:

    I had the good fortune of having a copy of "winning through intimidation" given to me 22 years ago when I was new in the real estate biz, I continue to cherish that book and I read it often. Thank you Robert for being a mentor and inspiration. It has truly changed the trajectory of my life. Finding joy in the repetitous boredom and "mastering the basics" is sage advice.

  13. Jim D says:

    <<…outspending my ignorance…>>

    What a great phrase and image.

  14. Jim Rice says:

    While I agree with just about everything you've written here about boredom,Ii feel that one reaches such insight only with age and experience. Many of the views you express probably wouldn't be appreciated by a younger person. The one thing that I have found unfailing in preventing boredom is to follow my curiosity. In a world so vast and complex, there are innumerable opportunities to uncover the wonder, causes, and meanings of the things that interest you.

  15. Phillip says:

    Suicide is a modern male issue for the most part. What is NOT being discussed is why the majority of suicides are men. Close to 9 out of 10. Do the research, I would be willing to bet it was not such a stark issue 30 years ago.

    The whole MRM movement, which is not "contra-feminism" per se, rather looks at the reality of gender inequality from a male perspective.

    Feminist scream about "equality" but their movement stopped long ago about being for equality.

    Look at R Williams alimony and divorce settlements.

    There probably came a point where suicide was the rational choice. If I am alive, any money coming in goes for lawyers and leeches… If i am dead, it will go to my kids.

    Men are groomed for life to sacrifice for their offspring. It is in our DNA.

    If a man is beat down enough, it can seem the best alternative. I did not know him, I can't say. But for the last few years he has joked bitterly about his two divorces.

    Food for thought

  16. Richard says:

    You just read an article by one of the greatest "self-improvement" writers of all time. Why would you waste time reading these comments by "nobody" in particular?

  17. David Ginger says:

    I caught myself worrying about a relative that lives in a town 40 miles away from me. There is really nothing I can do for this person. So, in addition to "say no to mental time travel", say no to mental space travel.

  18. Mert says:

    Wow, what an attitude. Thanks for this great post!

  19. Bodlai says:

    Amazing post.

  20. Hello,Boredom as the powerlessness to stay mindful in three courses —by failing to draw in with internal and external jolts,by getting to be obsessed with the thought of blaming so as to be bored, and our boredom on our surroundings.In any case,boredom is more than a disagreeable feeling —studies demonstrate that it can prompt some negative health result.Have a good day.

    @Tracy Hall.

  21. Likewise. Individuals cautioned me I'd be exhausted when I resigned. Be that as it may, in retirement I've found there aren't sufficient hours in the day.

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