The Problem: You're easily distracted.
The Fix: Learn how to be bored.
Do: Learn which types of boredom are good for you. Researchers have identified five of them, three of which can have positive effects: “Indifferent boredom—like when you’re tired at night or in a lecture that’s tedious and your thoughts wander—can lead to creative ideas,” says Goetz. Calibrated boredom, which occurs when we want to do something but aren’t sure what, can make us open to new things. And searching boredom, when we’re restless and actively looking for something to do, leads to new discoveries.
Don’t: Indulge in the two types of toxic boredom. So-called reactant boredom can occur when you’re forced to stay in a situation—like watching a terrible movie—and you get irritable and want to do something else. And apathetic boredom is a feeling of learned helplessness similar to depression, when you have no motivation to do anything.
The Problem: You're in a rut.
The Fix: Override your brain.
Just like unvaried workout routines lead to fitness plateaus, happiness has its own mood plateaus. Psychologists call it hedonic adaptation. “It’s the term for, ‘It was great at first, but now I’m used to it,’” says Kennon Sheldon, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri whose research centers on what it takes to boost happiness and keep it elevated. Luckily, Sheldon has found a simple way to override the brain’s tendency to adapt: variety. Novelty activates the reward area of the brain, which in turn stimulates the amygdala (the brain’s emotional processor) and the hippocampus (the memory center). The result: greater happiness and enhanced learning. “Fresh experiences are what we need to stay up at the top end of our happiness range,” Sheldon says.
The Problem: Work is your life.
The Fix: Road trip!
Do: Head out of town. Research suggests that exposure to new places, especially foreign cultures, makes us more creative. Seeing life through other peoples’ eyes can improve our ability to problem solve and help us overcome what psychologists call functional fixedness, or our tendency to see things only how we’re used to seeing them. “Vacations give us new perspective on life, on circumstances, on relationship issues”—even on work projects, says Francine Lederer, a Los Angeles–based clinical psychologist.
The Problem: You're a low-level hoarder.
The Fix: Purge.
Visual noise—like the gear piles in your garage—can overload the brain’s limited processing capacity, making it difficult for the brain to choose goals (I need to do my taxes!) over stimuli (Look at all those crampons!). Princeton University neuroscientists recently linked clutter to frustration, distraction, low productivity, and a hampered ability to process information—and that’s just for the junk you can see. Luckily, the cure is straightforward: get rid of the extra stuff. Bonus: researchers at the University of Maryland also found that purging possessions can lead to weight loss. “The way to avoid the pain of letting go,” Walsh says, “is to find one or two treasures and treat them with honor and respect by displaying them in your home. You’ll find the fear disappears,” Walsh says, “and it won’t be as hard to let go.”