Feel me out, I want to feel.
April 30, 2009 12:48 PM   Subscribe

Why don't I feel excited or satisfied about anything and how can I change it?

So growing up (I can remember until my late teens) I would feel a sense of satisfaction and pride at accomplishing things or at major events (friend's weddings, birthdays, etc).

Now, (late 20s) I feel no joy in anything, and no sense of accomplishment or achievement. Like most people I have targets and specific accomplishments, I am motivated and I want to achieve, and when I do I just feel... flat and move on directly to the next one.

With myself and with others I feel no excitement at milestones anymore. I fake it a lot of the times with others but don't have to and so don't for myself.

As far as I know I'm not suffering from depression; surprisingly I used to be a fairly negative person whereas now I'm more positively inclined. I write about this because it's almost like feeling like a robot somewhat and I really want to change it. Any tips?
posted by gadha to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I do think to a certain extent this just happens as you age. Are the targets you want to achieve things that you have set truly based on your own personal desires, or are they influenced by the desires of friends/family/expectation? I think that could definitely influence both your own personal satisfaction and maybe taint your satisfaction at other's achievements.

You say you feel no joy in anything, but immediately follow that by talking about accomplishment. Perhaps you need to realize that there is joy in lots of things, regardless of accomplishment (for example, there is a lot of joy in eating a good meal - do you feel joy in doing such things?). If you have a perfectionist personality you may not allow yourself to feel joy in anything but accomplishment. Something to consider.

I should say though that this does sound like depression to me. If not depression, then it suggests you are walking down the wrong path and need to make some changes.
posted by sickinthehead at 12:58 PM on April 30, 2009

Depression doesn't have to mean crushing sadness and negativity; it can also manifest as numbness and a muting of emotions. It might be worth talking to a doctor or therapist just to get a professional opinion on it.
posted by fermion at 1:06 PM on April 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

sickinthehead raises two very valid points that I'd like to expand upon.

The first thing is that the goals and accomplishments, to feel anything but hollow, need to be your goals. I never felt accomplishment or pride at having completed a milestone at work... not only had I not picked the goal, but the milestones themselves were too technically involved with our product to interest anybody else--I couldn't even brag. On the other hand, now when I'm freelancing, or working on my own projects, I again feel that pride of accomplishment because the tasks are of my own choosing. I'm not (just) pleasing other people, I selected from the sea of possibilities this particular goal, I designed a solution to the problem, and I carried out my design. Winning a battle feels more satisfying for the general than it does for the buck private.

The other thing that sickinthehead brings up is feeling baseline "joy". He says perhaps you need to recognize that joy's in everything; I think you may already have. You say that you went from being a negative person to thinking more positively. I had the same transformation. One thing I noticed is that since I now expected to succeed, the successes themselves were less important. I didn't get the rush of success, because I'd been succeeding and visualizing success the whole time. So, I set my goals higher--started my own firm, took harder projects, etc. As a result, I have some fear of failure again... and my successes are as sweet as ever they were. So, don't let yourself get bored.
posted by Netzapper at 1:09 PM on April 30, 2009

I bet you just have the bar set too low. If you were truly challenged, then you'd probably feel a lot more satisfaction in the fruits of your labor. A lot of really intelligent people end up in this situation -- you are so used to knowing the right answer or having the right skills that it all begins to seem rather pointless. Other people have to try way harder to accomplish things that you can do on autopilot, and so forth.

Take inventory. Do you find yourself setting out to achieve things that are most likely well within reach? Do you avoid making goals that seem improbable, unreasonable, or even outlandish? If so, then you're in a position where success really doesn't mean that much. Of course you succeeded, why wouldn't you? If you know what you're doing and you put forth reasonable effort, then victory can be almost formulaic.

You need to shoot for something larger, something that you don't know you can reach. Risk failure.
posted by hermitosis at 1:15 PM on April 30, 2009

I can't offer you any practical advice or tell you how to fix it, but my reaction to your question was that what you are feeling is exactly what Nietzsche--who could be called one of the great depth psychologists--predicted when he said "God is dead," that there is no world beyond this one. Nietzsche feared that after the "death of God" that nihilism would replace that foundational illusion. The death of god--the end of the foundational illusion that there is another world--would lead to a lack of robustness and passion, a lack of opportunity for significant experiences in life. If there is no world beyond this, we risk having nothing to live for and anticipate in life such that we could find joy and passion. Nietzsche feared that the rejection of religion would result in a great wasteland, where, with no inspiration in life, we will live life of passive consumption... what he calls The Last Man. Having given up on religion, but not finding an alternative, we will sit and consume. This leads to a life that is progressively hollow and empty, with no joy or passion. In other words, exactly what you are describing. Of course, Nietzsche wanted us to reject religion, but he proposed an alternative, a replacement value. And he warned that when religion dies and no alternative is found, we end up in a position like you described.

I have no idea if he was correct. But maybe reading Nietzsche might provide you with some insight or interest because he wrote about the exact experience you are describing.
posted by dios at 1:46 PM on April 30, 2009

posted by Jaltcoh at 2:22 PM on April 30, 2009

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