Robert M. Olson

Several days ago I was thinking of all the times in my life of 79 years that I have experienced major boredom, and what I did to resolve my “stuckness.”

It appeared to me that these times mostly surfaced during one of Pennsylvania’s gloomy days, when the air was damp and cold and the wind chill registered far below the day’s actual temperature.

My times of boredom also seemed to coincide with the ending of projects, when nothing new was scheduled to begin after a project ended.

Because I detested boredom so much, I came to call it “nausea of the soul.” I also have come to the conclusion that older people have a propensity to experience boredom more frequently than younger people, who are more active.

I used to sell real estate in south Florida, where I heard many stories of seniors who dreamed about retirement and pictured it as an extended vacation.

They would spend their days sitting around the pool, or tanning in the sun, or listening to the waves at the beach, or fishing, or golfing, or shopping — with no time limits or boundaries to shackle their freedom.

However, after a couple of years, I noticed a profound change in their schedules: The beach, the boat, the links and the shopping seemed to give way to a more reality-based freedom, in which each of these pleasures became subsumed by usual day-to-day activities that engage most people who live a “normal” lifestyle.

Retirement is a different animal compared to other stages of life. Beginning in young adulthood, we are encouraged to “save” for our retirement; in middle age we are constantly reminded that to ensure a long and happy retirement time we have to have enough money to last us through our retirement years; and when we hit the 50-mark, AARP is there to ask us to join and often funeral homes or churches come seeking payment and instructions as to our wishes for funeral services and burial instructions.

In my experience, the early retirement years are often a surreal experience for many. Retirees have worked so long and hard preparing for this monumental time of life that it is difficult to believe it has finally arrived.

I heard myself say many times, “How did I get here?” and “What do I do now?” This time, which was to be such a joyous occasion, has for many retirees become an overwhelming experience, and depression and boredom often rear their ugly heads.

I now believe that boredom can become a blessing rather than a curse.

 The way it shakes out for me is this: Boredom lays the groundwork for creativity; creativity leads to innovation; innovation leads to celebration; and celebration leads to joy! When I feel joyful I am happy, filled with purpose, meaning and satisfaction.

I will give you an example.

I lived on my sailboat for eight years and cruised the coastal waters off the U.S., and then moved landside. Within a few weeks, I became bored and depressed (a good example of one project ending with nothing else begun).

 After a while, I hit upon the idea of rekindling an old passion of mine, which was writing and inspirational public speaking (creativity), with a focus on the elderly and attempting to change our culture’s attitude toward older persons (innovation), assisting seniors with their financial problems through the use of tiny houses (innovation) and providing a program to address loneliness and depression in the older population through an “adopt-a-senior” program (innovation).

Through writing this series of articles (one of which you are reading now) and through my speaking engagements, teaching at the Ware Center in downtown Lancaster and reading the many emails I have received about my columns, I have found lots to celebrate, helping me to experience a joyful life. (The archives for this series an be found at lancasteronline.com.)

So, the next time you find yourself bored, “shake it out.” Turn it into a blessing and discover the joy you deserve.

As the poet Robert Browning wrote, “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be, the last of life for which the first was made.”

Robert M. Olson is a pastoral psychologist specializing in geriatric issues. He invites comments and speaking invitations at theoldguy.4@icloud.com or on his Facebook page.