Learning from boredom

Getting bored on your pathway to meaning and purpose in retirement can be more useful than you think.

By Dr Jon Glass - 3 min read

A little about Jon

Dr Jon Glass runs retirement coaching business 64PLUS (The opinions expressed are those of Dr Jon Glass and 64Plus. Russell Investments does not endorse, and is not accountable for, any views expressed by Dr Jon Glass or 64Plus.) He coaches individuals to a clearer understanding of the issues they will face post work. He has studied counselling and coaching at The Australian College of Applied Psychology and The Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership.

In previous articles, I have discussed the importance of finding a pathway to your meaning and purpose in retirement. However, on that path you may suffer periods of boredom. In this article, I offer some ideas to help you to manage boredom.   

Bored: wearied. Oxford English Dictionary  

I found the above dictionary definition of boredom both unhelpful and slightly off topic. A useful framework is that when boredom sets in, you feel like you are sitting in a waiting room, not knowing what you are waiting for. This can make you feel anxious and restless.   

Let me be clear. I am NOT talking about the commonly-expressed: ‘A’ is a bore / ‘A’ bored me. But before continuing let’s take a small detour.   

I don’t know much about seagulls. But when I observe their behaviour they are either:   

  • fighting for food or,
  • eating on the ground or,
  • squawking in the air or,
  • resting or sleeping on the water.

I have never seen a seagull look bored.   

Let’s leave seagulls now to jump several kilometres up the tree of life, to young children. Who hasn’t heard a child say to its parent “I’m bored!” (Nowadays, children seem to get equipped with iPads, so that long car trips are never boring). As we know, the child expects its parents to relieve its boredom.   

In working life, of course there are moments of boredom but usually there are plenty of tasks available to provide distraction. In retirement, it may be a different story.   

So, what can you do if boredom sets in? You may try to conquer the anxiety and restlessness of boredom by diving into social media. I don’t think that is the best long-term answer.   

Here are two different approaches to conquering boredom that you could try.   

Try something new 

The first approach to dealing with boredom in retirement is external in focus, and best illustrated with these examples:  

  • Look at your neighbourhood in a different way. Linger to look at flowers, drink at a new coffee shop, walk down an unfamiliar street.
  • Join a neighbourhood group and see if you enjoy yourself.
  • Do something you may not have done before in your life, such as camping.
  • Go to a concert or play with your adult children.

I am sure you can think of plenty more. Embedded inside these examples is the word ’curious’, where curiosity implies that you open yourself up to new and challenging experiences. Why not? Those first few years of retirement are too precious to waste just sitting around.   

Sit with your boredom  

The second approach to dealing with boredom in retirement is internal in focus and explaining it requires some background.   

As individuals we all have needs that, if not satisfied, can build up a mass of unhealthy negative emotions. Here are some examples of needs you may (or may not) have:

  • To be relevant and useful to the world
  • To be challenged to achieve certain goals
  • To be socially connected with others.

It’s clear that a person who needs to be socially connected, but is isolated and alone, could face emotional problems over time.   

So, what about dealing with your boredom by sitting with it, to see what can emerge from some unmet need deep inside you. Eureka! For example, you may conclude that you need to be useful to the world. Great, because now you are starting to fill out your meaning and purpose in retirement in a way that you can act on.   

A retirement coach can help with these two approaches to the management of boredom in retirement.   

In the first approach, the coach could help to stimulate your sense of curiosity. (That is always something deeply personal. For example, you may not be as curious about seagulls as I am).   

With the second approach, the coach could help you to sit with your boredom in order to see the results. Once unmet needs have been identified, meaning and purpose, then action, become clearer.   

I hope this post has broadened your definition of boredom beyond the word ‘weary’.   

Boredom in retirement can be your friend. Use it to clarify your meaning and purpose via curiosity and by identifying your needs.


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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views and opinions of Russell Investments.   

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