While life definitely has its high points, for the most part it consists of routines. Get up, get the kids ready for school or camp, make meals, serve meals, eat meals, clean up after meals, homework, bedtime, tasks and more tasks, go to sleep, start again tomorrow.

That’s boring to read, let alone do. With the exception of the occasional crisis, even our problems carry on in their repetitive ways: the decades-long worry about this particular child, the 30-year squabble with one’s spouse, the perpetual financial issues, the ongoing weight or health issues, the never-ending battle with our inner critic… On and on it goes.

Where has all the fun gone?

Missing the Boat

Of course, if we do feel dissatisfied, down, or depressed, we feel guilty about our poor attitude. After all, we know that our lives are pure service of Hashem and this alone should infuse us with daily passion and joy — or so we believe. Feeling unhappy must reflect a personal failing, a lack of gratitude for all that we have and a lack of appreciation for all that we are. If we were more elevated — so we think — then we would find deep pleasure in all the moments of our deeply meaningful lives.

We attempt to “fix” ourselves by attending more classes, reading more books, working harder on our spiritual outlook. When even these efforts fail to infuse us with happiness, we feel even guiltier.

It’s unfortunate that we’re so hard on ourselves for missing the boat. What we don’t realize is that boredom and stress aren’t only the result of incorrect thinking or lack of faith. In many cases, they’re the natural consequences of normal biological processes. They result from certain kinds of deprivation, just as thirst and hunger occur to otherwise spiritually elevated people who haven’t had anything to drink or eat for too many hours.

Creating Good Feelings

What could be missing in a life full of meaningful activity? There could be many things. For instance, a lack of satisfying social connection can leave people feeling empty and stressed. Being able to laugh with friends, share activities, discuss things, and give and receive support makes one feel alive and secure.

It’s sometimes necessary to actively nurture new or dormant friendships to get these benefits. Fortunately, many important social needs can also be met through acquaintances: working with, studying with, talking with, or doing other activities with the same group of people on a regular basis can foster feelings of connection and belonging that raise mood and ease stress.

Another thing that might be missing is recreation. “All work and no play” is a recipe for unhappiness and stress. Numerous research studies have shown that those who paint, play a musical instrument, or engage in other forms of artistic expression have higher levels of energy, motivation, physical health, and overall wellbeing.

Recent research from the Mayo Clinic found that adults who engage in drawing, sculpting, woodworking, ceramics, quilting, and so on have better moods and less cognitive decline. According to the American Academy of Neurology, hobbies protect the brain, stimulating the growth of new neurons and protecting old ones.

A similar body of research links handicrafts such as knitting and crocheting with mental and emotional benefits very similar to those experienced by those who practice meditation, including significant decreases in stress along with improved health and wellbeing. The creative process — the activities involved in preparing, producing, and sharing a creative project — switches on the excitement and joy centers in the brain.

Stretch it

One more missing element might be movement. Stretching the brain to learn something new and stretching the body by way of any kind of physical exercise both lead to happier moods, more energy, and far better overall health.

Although it can be challenging to get into a regular habit of movement when one isn’t normally interested in such things, the payoff in stress reduction and mood elevation is worth pushing through any emotional resistance you encounter.

The trick is to find some form of exercise that’s pleasant and enjoyable from the start, which might mean finding something easy, convenient, short in duration, and so on — whatever is needed to make it appealing. The energetic payoffs will keep one going.

Boredom and stress are often signals that your brain and/or body is in need of a workout. Give it that stretch and see what happens! (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 553)