Where'd my mojo go?
September 30, 2011 1:37 PM   Subscribe

How do I make life magic again?

In my childhood and early teens, the world was infused with magic. Everything was filled with possibility, and I loved to play and to learn. Everything had a certain charge to it. I was creative, and I learnt a lot through doing (like learning how to use Photoshop and Final Cut just by experimenting with them).

Now, though, nothing seems to have that same spark. I'm 21, and having recently completed my Biochemistry degree I'm following up with laboratory work and entertaining the idea of ultimately going into research depending how I find the next few months. But I worry that I'm just tricking myself into finding it interesting. Not much really motivates me these days or brings me much joy. I'm very driven, but plenty of people do things they don't like. The fact that I get good grades doesn't mean there isn't something more fulfilling for me out there.

I wonder what happened to the magic. I can't help but feel I spend most of my time hovering above hedonic zero. I can't help but imagine other people are happier than me, and that somehow I've missed a trick. I find the lows are less bad than they were when I was younger, but the highs are flattened too.

It's something that's troubled me for a long time, and on which I've received no satisfactory advice. One friend tells me he has no trouble finding magic in the things he does, and was heartbroken to hear that I don't get it from the things I learn and do.

Do you find that your life is magical? Was it always so, or was it something you developed or learned to do? How do you know if you're taking your life in the right direction if nothing gives you that thrill any more? Should I accept that my hedonic set point might just be lower than others', or are there steps I can take to manufacture joy?

For those who can't grok my use of the word "magic", I'll give an anecdote. A friend of mine once perfectly described this feeling as "those moments when everything in your life seems to shift into perspective." It's an almost physical sensation I used to get with some regularity, and now almost never. I imagine its neural correlate is endorphin release, but who knows?
posted by henryaj to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
Hike, drive somewhere scenic, listen to beautiful music, do shrooms/LSD with friends.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:40 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

This sounds an awful like depression.
Are you:
Eating good food.
Working out regularly.
Sleeping 8 hours.
Finding non-toxic people who make you happy to hang out with.
Setting life goals that send you in a direction that you want to be.
Setting realistic goals to make sure these things happen.
Talking to a professional about how to make sure these things happen, or what to do if they don't.

Also, go climb a mountain, nothing resets perspective like looking down on the world that makes you realize this world is made of magic.
posted by JimmyJames at 1:43 PM on September 30, 2011 [12 favorites]

You're leaving the period of your life that was strongly focused on learning new and exciting things, experimenting and understanding new things, and now you're moving towards applying your knowledge and problem-solving skills that you've learned. On top of that, you're moving from being reliant on others to deal with the dull day-to-day management tasks that aren't a lot of fun - making money, paying bills, and obligations to be met to make both of those things happen. You can't be as care-free as before.

If you focus on the things you have to do, life is dull. You work, you eat, you sleep, you pay bills. But if you look at the things that happen between or during the necessities, there is plenty of time for joy in life. Sometimes you'll have to trick yourself into liking what you're doing, or offer yourself the carrot of fun at the end of the day, such is life for most people. If that scares you or worries you, make the most of the fun times. Join groups who meet regularly, giving yourself a reason to get out and do something new with new people. Sign up for evening or weekend classes or lectures. Read random books in the library, or ask a stranger what they're reading and if they would recommend it.

Push yourself to do exciting things. Even if adulthood is full of dull things, it doesn't have to only be dull things.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:49 PM on September 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

What else do you do to enjoy yourself? Do you have hobbies that you love?

For me, when I'm singing with my group, and we hit a really crunchy chord, and we're just grooving -- that's magic, baby.
posted by blurker at 1:49 PM on September 30, 2011

Short answer: you don't.

Long answer: That's not a bad thing. Life is not always one long string of magic and amazement, connected by fantastic experiences with interesting people. Sometimes life is just...life. You're getting older, and you're at a point in your life where you see life less for its infinite possibilities than for where you fit in its parameters. That, believe it or not, is a good process - and it can lead back to that feeling of magic once you find out where your place is in this world.

I find the lows are less bad than they were when I was younger, but the highs are flattened too.

That's what life does as you get older. Some call that process "getting jaded", but I prefer to think of it more as becoming adapted to the inevitable ebbs and flows of life - you've already seen this start to happen, but as you get even older, you'll start to feel a lot less passionate about things that used to be absolutely life or death. You'll still enjoy those things, they just take a more proper place in the perspective of your life, if that makes sense.

What you're describing is pretty normal - it happens to almost everyone at your age and stage in life. You might get back to that "everything is magical" place, and you might not - but again, just because it isn't magic doesn't mean it isn't good. Enjoy what you have, seek out and aim for what you want, and everything else falls into place.
posted by pdb at 1:52 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also, go climb a mountain, nothing resets perspective like looking down on the world that makes you realize this world is made of magic.

I agree with the above.

Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Not just a little, but alot. Go down to south america and volunteer for a while. Go take a big trip to the himalaya and hike around for a while.
posted by TheBones at 1:52 PM on September 30, 2011

Try keeping a daily journal where you recount what you did by the end of each day.

I think the process of getting older just causes magic moments (per your definition) to wane. It has something to do with experiencing more, and having more relative data from which to form your more broad worldview. This in and of itself will reduce the number of times your life can shift into perspective.

The best thing I can think of is being present in the moment. This means just stopping what you're doing, and kind of being omniscient about everything that's going on around you at the moment. What time it is on the clock, the position of the chairs around you, what constitutes the ambient noise around you, noticing how bright the sun is, how the wind feels blowing through your hair. Does it bring back any memories? Does it inspire you to do something?

Something about being young makes everything in the world feel new and magical. It's not necessarily about things being new, but it's about you experiencing something. When you experience something for the first time, you fully experience it. Later on, you become dull to the experience. Being fully present allows you to fully experience something, even though it is not new.

Writing a journal helps you to be present. You have to recount what happened, and you will find yourself experiencing life more reflectively, more fully.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:54 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

What helps me get in that mode, where it seems like everything's connecting and ideas are popping up and I'm inspired by everything around me, is keeping Twitter open in a tab throughout the day. It gives me the same sort of proprioception that ideas! ideas! are everywhere! and I know what's going on! that I used to get when everyone I knew was on AIM all day or on the Direct Connect hub all day, zinging ideas across campus.
posted by limeonaire at 1:57 PM on September 30, 2011

I can empathise. When I was 18 I travelled around the world for a year, backpacking and working shitty jobs and generally having amazing times - I definitely had those magic experiences, and the physically overwhelming sensation that the world was just SO FUCKING INCREDIBLE that I couldn't stand it.

And yeah - that hasn't happened as much lately (I'm 26 now). I do miss it, but I think it shows not a diminishing of the beauty of the world, but a change in myself and how I react to it. I think part of the OH WOW magic factor is a bit of innocence - I simply didn't understand things could be so amazing, so the reaction was quite intense. These days, I guess (at the risk of self-aggrandising) I'm a little 'wiser', in the sense that when I'm stunned at a similar moment, it's less of a suprising 'magical' experience and more of a quiet smile to myself at how good it is.

In terms of advice, I say keep working to make your life magical - go out of your comfort zone, travel, meet people, learn new things, pack a bag and go camping on a whim, whatever - but try to understand that your reactions to these things will change as you change, and that that is perfectly fine in itself (in time, you may begin to see that change as a magical thing in its own right).
posted by twirlypen at 2:05 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're 21. Your brain is still developing, and will continue to do so (your whole life, as you know, but really quickly) until you hit your mid-20s, but even so a lot of your fastest, most radically life-altering developmental changes are behind you. That shift is likely what you think of as a loss of magic.

What you will (hopefully) discover is that the world is much as it ever was. Your level of engagement with it is yours to decide, but if you want to feel like there's new things in your life, seek them out. Read, travel, create, challenge yourself, and refuse the path of consumption as definition, and you'll likely find that you can be as "balanced" (i.e., as screwed up and unhappy at times, and as OK at others) as the rest of us.

The boss battle of your 20s, it is said, is learning that you're really not that important.
posted by ellF at 2:27 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ennui, pure and simple. I've been where you are. I'm old now and I find magic, contentment, joy and je ne sais quoi all the time. Experience taught me to find the best wherever I am and whatever I'm doing. I had your feelings often when I was your age and periodically until my mid 30s. Nothing too bad, but often just didn't see what all the hoopla was about in life. Your feeling will pass. If it doesn't, go talk to someone. Find pleasure in all things.
posted by swmobill at 2:38 PM on September 30, 2011

There is much to be said about a life where you are exactly on track, always eating right, exercising every day, going to bed early every night, avoiding all bad habits, hanging out only with very nice and emotionally healthy people, only watching Disney movies, etc but I will say its BORING and SAFE. Some people will even start picking on their almost-perfect lives - one of the salad ingredients wasn't locally grown, OMG! went to bed at 11pm last Tuesday and still feeling bad about it! Fred glanced at me during the 2 hr prayer marathon and briefly looked angry, CRISIS! The movie was okay but you could almost see a breast so I am writing up a complaint! Pick, pick, pick at minor things and they are now not only boring, but also very annoying and often depressed and/or anxious. These sort of people also feel guilty about _everything_ including being born to a family not scraping a living in fields and not living in a hovel.

You don't need to go crazy or turn into a raging alcoholic or slob, but the things that boring safe people consider bad can definitely be fun in smaller doses. Like staying up all night reading a great book and almost drowning yourself in caffeine the next day to stay awake at work, without complaining to anyone! Dancing naked with strangers! Travel! Bounce on that 5-star hotel bed! Lie on the lawn watching the stars! Delight in the wide range of freedoms and emotions you have!

Things you definitely want to avoid though: being arrested, unintentionally pregnant, a nasty disease you can't ever get rid of, addicted to something, hurting others or yourself, and of course sudden death (balancing on cliff edges is always stupid!)

Don't let yourself be normalized, be an outlier (at least on the weekends)!
posted by meepmeow at 3:10 PM on September 30, 2011 [10 favorites]

It's weird, but I used to have the same feeling when I was in grad school - pursuing a creative writing degree, and writing poetry all the time. I'd walk from my house to the bus stop, and ideas for poems would just be everywhere - I'd turn my head, and get inspired by the lamp post, the leaves in the street.

I'm not sure if this matches your definition of "magic," but it felt to me like inspiration was everywhere. Everything was full of possibility, and it was all around.

When I stopped writing, that feeling went away. It's still there, but not quite as strong as it used to be. My theory is that those feelings were tied to how I viewed the world. When I was writing more, I was constantly trying to re-imagine the world anew, constantly trying to see it in a different way with each poem.

Today, I'm not writing as much... but I've since channeled my energies towards obsessively documenting my days via a blog. I try to take a lot of photos, and I feel like that's helped me recapture some of that magic and wonder I used to feel, all the time. I'll second jabberjaw's recommendation to keep a journal, but writing may not be your thing.

My recommendation? Get yourself a camera, and start taking photographs. If you can, go so far as to carry the camera in your hand as you're walking around, as this will increase the chance you'll actually take more pictures.

I've found that, with a camera... you're more likely to go and seek out the world a little more. You're more likely to try to see things in a new and different way, and will be more likely to look at the world anew again.
posted by avoision at 3:35 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, you can be depressed, but not feel sad. Life feels like flat soda and absolutely nothing appeals to you.

Short answer: 18 mg of methylphenidate extended release. It's prescribed, and I feel like I have a new brain.

Serving others and a gratitude journal have been shown to help too.
posted by mecran01 at 3:36 PM on September 30, 2011

I don't think you need to make big dramatic gestures to recapture magic. There's as much magic on the #14 bus as there is in the slums of Rio. But you have to keep your eyes open and your wits about you.

I frequently snap photos with my cellphone camera of weird bits I see--odd signs on notice boards, amusing juxtapositions of objects--I'm not posting them, but I like to look at them and get a little frisson of pleasure or humor from the memory or just the image. For example--went to a yard sale (like a boot sale) and found an ashtray with the logo of a local hospital. This struck my funny bone--hospitals with smoking lounges? Still makes me smile.

Look at little kids--they take in so much more of the world, and point it out, too. Children set out to be pleased by life, and so, are--more often than adults. We frequently make our minds up to be disappointed or let down, and so when things are perfect, we're disgruntled. But I'm pretty easily amused and easily pleased--everyday above ground is a good day in my book.

(Rent Happy Go Lucky--at first she annoyed me, and on a 2nd viewing, I got it.)
posted by Ideefixe at 3:53 PM on September 30, 2011

I felt this a bit after college--I think it was just a hangover from being very goal-oriented and then suddenly not having much of an immediate goal.

I took a Spanish immersion course in Mexico for a month and then backpacked around for another month with some friends I met at the school there. Did me a world of good. For one thing, I'd grown up very sheltered and never had any experience with the third world before, so that was eye-opening and I think ultimately enriching. On the other hand, parts of Mexico are very cosmopolitan, and there was a lot of gorgeous art and architecture that I just loved. I think I came home with 15 rolls of film to develop (yes, this was longlongago). Also, I wasn't very good at Spanish, even at the end of my course, so even buying a bus ticket was an adventure. It was sort of terrifying and fun at the same time.

So, I vote for extended travel, if you can swing it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:14 PM on September 30, 2011

Hey henryj - I don't know what the job market is like in London, and how ambitious you are, but I got a job at a startup pharmaceutical company straight out of college with a Biochem/Molecular Biol (and philosophy) BA degree, 11 years ago.

It's not very fulfilling work, most of it repetitious. But, it's 8-5 and the pay is "ok." I was making about the same amount as my highschool friends who didn't go to college (mostly office/clerical and skilled trade), but if I had stayed, I would have been pretty quickly surpassed by them in pay. The pay ceiling is pretty low in science if all you have is a BSc.

If you want to do laboratory stuff, you'll want at least a masters degree and preferably a doctorate degree, although that job market is a lot harder to get into. A MSc is about the right spot if you just want a job in a lab - it'll end up paying about as well as a very good office job, but the ceiling is probably a little bit lower.

But yeah, you sound depressed.

One way to get that magic back is to set some goals for yourself and go about achieving them. Rinse, repeat. You might fail at some of your goals - either try again with a different approach armed with what you learned the first time(s) around, or find some other goals to try to achieve.

Falling in love is magical. Hopefully the person of your endearment returns the sentiment, though.
posted by porpoise at 4:26 PM on September 30, 2011

Everything isn't for everybody, but when I was around your age I found that a good LSD trip really worked wonders on me for clearing out my mental filters and bringing a feeling of magic back to life. Sunsets became beautiful again. I found new appreciation of arts and saw people in new lights. This is long after the trip is over, by the way. I felt it had quite a positive long-term effect, most easily described as feeling like I had rebooted my consciousness system.
posted by Edogy at 4:33 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I's in the little things and the moments. I actually keep a a list. They're pretty simple, and that's the point. Off the top of my head, a few of them are is seeing the moon in the sky during the day, or the first wearing of a brandy-new pair of sneakers, or a great driving song when I happen to be on the freeway. You have to keep an eye out for the moments of joy.
posted by puddinghead at 5:57 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do none of the things that used to give you pleasure give you pleasure now? Do you only feel a moment of joy or connection when good things happen when you used to feel it for minutes, days or hours? Do you dread stuff that you normally would look forward to?

If the answer any or all those questions is yes, you have anhedonia, which is a key symptom of depression. Get screened and try the approach that feels right to you, whether it be drugs, therapy or both. My experience is that anhedonia only lifts with drugs, YMMV.
posted by Maias at 6:10 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

You see that most people recommend drugs. What kind of drug (prescription or illicit) depends on what kind of person. I don't think you need any drugs.

Most of the time, I am very monk-like, working long, late, lonely hours and I do not see people in person. The work is very outcome-oriented and there is really no end to it.

Traveling, and being forced to interact with people (especially people who do not speak the same language) restores this sense of wonder for me. Also, when traveling, the normal constraints/blah of life go away. There need not be any outcome, and you need not be alone, and there need not be any reason for any interesting thing to happen. The weird food and sleep schedules help to heighten these effects.

In particular, earlier this year I spent some weeks in Nicaragua, working with a ____ on some ____. I slept in dorms on a mountaintop, rode in the bed of a hilux for six hours staring at the stars, and at one point I was soldering things together in a mud house on a coffee farm. I came back alight, the effects lasted months, in fact they are only just now wearing off. Good thing I am changing jobs and life situations again, I feel ready for some new awesome.

Also, I make special note when something makes me feel good, like puddinghead recommends. In particular, I've found that awful camp coffee on a cold morning makes me feel a certain great way, so I always drink it when the mornings are chilled. I like the smell of matches, and the feeling of sunlight through the windshield when it is cold outside. Being deliberate about these things helps a lot.
posted by fake at 6:49 PM on September 30, 2011

I really must proofread better (thus the name puddinghead).
posted by puddinghead at 8:23 PM on September 30, 2011

I'll check back regularly to see if anyone gives a good answer, but offhand, I'd say:

You don't. You simply grew up and realized that real life means "working for the weekend", or if blessed with a longer term vision, working for a time when your body and mind start to give out and no one wants you to work anymore, so you get to retire (if you planned well enough and had few enough financial disasters in your life).

Some here have called you depressed. I'd just call you realistic. And yeah, I miss the magic, too. God I miss the magic.
posted by pla at 11:04 PM on September 30, 2011

You're an adult now. Congratulations. You can choose to be disappointed, cynical, or unhappy or you can choose to seek out and create your own magic. But sitting back and expecting great things to happen to you is essentially deciding to settle for less. Therapy can help you cope with this.

My life is full of magic, but it's been a life long process choosing to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone, deciding to take the more difficult path. Comfort and safety have their advantages, but they can also be a trap that leads to boredom and lost opportunity.

Travel. Keep a journal. Go to Burning Man. Question your assumptions. Seek out people who live interesting lives full of wonder and emulate them. Create art. Figure out how to entertain yourself without material possessions. Train yourself to perform physical feats you never thought you were capable of. Do things your parents would disapprove of.

All of this is possible, it's just a matter of choosing to do so.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:29 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

dear man.... i had this EXACT same verbalization last week. Amazing coincidence.

I was thinking about how magic christmas was as a child, how just the glance of a box of decorations in the attic was somehow a window into some unknown future of perfection. I thought of mist and moonlight over a still pond seen through the open door of a pup tent when I was a kid camping with my neighbor friend, the mystical thoughts I had when I was trying to figure out all the ins and outs of Carlos Castanada's silly books, how I felt when I was hanging out in a skyscraper bar with a bunch of fellow aerospace industry engineers in Dallas in my early 30's, and what my brain did when it finally got how transistors worked in college.

It's not that these things aren't present at 57. For me, I guess they are there for the taking but my cynicism pre-taints them, as well as just the mechanistic knowledge I've accumulated from aging. I figured out that what other people think is magic looks more like physics to me, and it robs me of the magic.

I will admit that I can turn it on fairly quickly by looking at the NASA Hubble Deep Field photograph and contemplating the lives in those distant galaxies. It can't be that love found its only home in the universe on our planet, and I wonder about the wonderings of all those distant people who have no doubt, looked this way and wondered the same exact thing. I wonder about their prom dates, their first mating, their wars and poets, their sunsets.

Don't despair, but do expect magic to reappear less as your years accumulate. I think you have to look harder and the glimmers are smaller and more subtle.
posted by FauxScot at 4:59 AM on October 1, 2011

This question really reminds me of the song "Helplessness Blues" by the Fleet Foxes. Near the end of this podcast by NPR's All Songs Considered, host Robin Hilton talks about the difficulties he faced as young man in his 20s, trying to find his place in the world, and about how he wishes he could have heard this song then - and how much it would have helped.

I think part of what comes with growing older, with gaining wisdom, is this increased sense of ambivalence about the world and how you see it. It's hard to feel the pure, unalloyed joy that you might have experienced once. Or that feeling of having an brand-new epiphany every moment. But isn't your perspective now much more nuanced than it was just several years ago? There's value in that. I also think you have to remember that it's easy to look at the past and romanticize it. Psychology has shown that humans are pretty terrible at remembering things accurately, and for good reason - it's beneficial for us to only remember the good stuff! (or at least remember more of it) Maybe you should research some more topics in positive psychology - flow, wisdom, eudaimonia. (also, mindfulness!)

As for myself, I think I am lucky that in some sense I have always had a happy disposition. But the things that really excite me are sometimes fairly mundane - having great conversations with people where I feel really connected with them, learning something surprising that changes my perspective, or being engaged in what I'm doing. I'm all for travel and new experiences too, but I don't that's necessary to get that magic back in your life. This sounds a little cheesy, but when I think back on when I've felt really happy, it's always been coupled with this sense of humbleness too - this idea of being the best person within my sphere - of not wanting to change everything, and knowing that I can't, but being content with what's within my power.
posted by leedly at 7:05 AM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

You sound kinda like you're bored.

When you're a kid, you get lots of new information thrown at you that is completely new. That's kind of how the education system works -opening up a child's mind to the world beyond. Obviously, this is a great way to keep things new and fresh and exciting. When you leave school, though, that doesn't tend to happen. You go from spending a large portion of the day learning about new things to working. Generally, once you've been trained in your job, you do a lot of repetitive tasks. Even a doctor in an emergency room, who never knows what is going to come through the door, is working within a specific set of constraints, namely patching people back up. They aren't going to be milking cows, or working with the LHC, or arranging a dinner banquet or operating a till. Within the purview of their job, what they do is pretty samey-samey.

The trick is to move outside of that rut, or comfort zone. Finding the magic in something NEW and EXCITING is easy. Your brain has to produce new neurons, or line the existing ones up in new ways, to enable you to learn. This means more dopamine gets released, which means that you feel good. So take that flamenco class. It'll make you use your brain in a new way, which at the very least will prevent things from becoming stale. This is assuming that you want to do flamenco, of course. Don't just do things because you feel you ought, because nothing kills joy and interest faster than that.

Another thing you can do is look for the magic. Next time you catch a bus, stop to consider how amazing it is that something like a bus actually exists. Consider the fact that someone somewhere got enough money together to start a bus company. Consider the manufacture of the bus; mining the ore from the ground to make the metal that the bus is made of, someone somewhere being clever enough to know how to put all of the bits together well enough to actually make the bus and all of the related manufacturing processes that make all of the bits that make the bus. Consider the internal combustion engine, and the oil needed to run it. Consider the discovery process that led to the creation of the ICE. Consider the first human to pick up a rock and make a tool out of it, that started us down the path of tool use. Even if you don't find magic in all of that, it'll start to down the road to wonderment, and maybe lead you to some new places.

Keep track of the magic you do find in everyday life. Doing anything is a skill that has to be continually honed, magic-seeking included. If you aren't trying to find magic, you might be missing it when it's right under your nose. Maybe you watched an interesting video on Youtube. Make a note of that. Then look for more, related things like that video. Perhaps it was about bower birds. Your next step might be Wikipedia to learn more about them, or maybe more about New Guinea. You might get distracted by birds of paradise or some other genus entirely. Whichever it is, make notes about it. Keep a diary, or maybe write a blog about what you've learned or seen. Protip: discuss these things with other people. Making a connection with someone AND bonding over a shared love of something is a pretty magical thing.

I keep a list of interesting things that I want to search Wikipedia about, and start poking through the list when I'm feeling jaded. When I'm feeling very ambitious, I try to mindmap the links as I go through them.

I think you have to train yourself, in a way, to try harder as you get older. There are still as many things to be in awe of, it's just that they awe you in different ways. As a kid, I was amazed at Springbok jumping to escape predators. Now, I want to know the mechanics behind that - how does they musculo-skeletal system work, to enable them to do that?

An analogy: fire is pretty when you're young, and you don't think too much about it. As you get older, you start cooking with it, and putting the fire to some use, rather than thinking it looks nice. Which opens up a whole new world of possibilities; you now get to use ingredients to make something, instead of just eating what you're given.

You can just accept that life is get up-work-eat-sleep-get up, etc. And I think for a lot of people, maybe it is. I've faced that option myself enough times, too, so I can't judge. Nobody is going to tell you what to do and how to do it any more, though. You have to make your own choices and surf the options that are in front of you. Don't like the options? Create some new ones. At the very least, you have the whole internet spread out in front of you, something that previous generations didn't have. You're standing at the mouth of the cave, blinking in the sunlight. It's up to you whether or not you go out there. It's more scary, but it's a lot more fun too. Trust me, you won't meet other adventurers in the back of the cave.
posted by Solomon at 7:31 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

A bandaid solution: watch some David Attenborough films on the animal of your choice. MAGIC.
posted by teststrip at 11:18 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Exposure to novel environments causes increased concentrations of dopamine in the brain. Since you mentioned getting a thrill from autodidactic pursuits such as teaching yourself PhotoShop, but have lost that "lovin' feeling" (so to speak) in your lab work, you've probably got a mild case of post-graduation burnout.

But that will come back, in time, I promise you. Now, on to the problem: fixing your blahs.

Since it's scientific fact that novelty stimulates brain activity, I suggest that you get out there and expose yourself to new environments, people and activities. After all, several people upthread (like Slarty Bartfast) already pointed this out. Sounds simple, yeah? But I wanted to give you the neuroscience behind it.

People take it for granted that achievements and possessions will make them happy; for me, the bigger payoff lies in expanding your horizons and seeking out what's commonly referred to as "experience goods." And in fact, science backs this up.

Where would you like to go that you've never been before? What festivals, events and activities appeal to you that you can't experience where you live now? Do you have an affinity for languages, cooking, wine, art, architecture or something else that academia hasn't fulfilled in you? Start making a list of travel destinations, celebrations, historic monuments, cultures and lifestyles that strike a chord in you, and put a goal plan in place to experience them first-hand.

You say you're driven, and I believe you. So am I. Do what you've gotta do to get your career off the ground and take care of any school debt you may have, but realize achieving a major life goal (like getting your Biochem degree) can be terribly anticlimactic for people like us; that's why it's important to have a running list of goals and experiences throughout your lifetime to inspire you to keep going, evolving, learning and expanding your horizons.

An eternal sense of magic and wonder is just around the next corner - but we can't tell you where to find it. Only you can know where the journey will take you.

And if all of this sounds like BS, good sex with the right person's pretty magical, too.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:59 AM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Take more risks.
posted by conrad53 at 11:06 PM on October 1, 2011

I've had a similar feeling if i'm reading you right. It's not depression so much as blahs.

One thing that's worked for me is just to relive your childhood magic memories. really feel what they were like. Then just do something very normal and try to see the magic in it. I mean go over to your kitchen sink and turn on the faucet. Holy crap, water comes out! Piped from god-knows-maybe-thawed-icebergs-from-Antarctica. But don't just think about it with your intellectual side. Stare at the water coming out, hear it, see it, feel it. Turn it on and off. You're the Master of the Water in the Pipe. The little water molecules think they can get past you, but no, squeak the faucet shut and they're stuck. Then open it up and surprise the little suckers.

That's magic on a small scale. For bigger bangs I'd go with new experiences. It doesn't have to be climbing a mountain (why's that the first thing people think of? I don't even know where to find a mountain let alone climb it). As a new experience, I'm saying something like going into the children's section in the library. Holy crap, you're a giant in there. You loom over all the little kiddies. You can read any book in there in milliseconds. You could burn through the entire freakin' collection in an hour. The other (tiny) humans barely have their ABCs straight. You're thermonuclear in a room where they've just discovered bows and arrows.

Or how about going into the grocery store. The fruit section. No seriously. Have you seen what they've got in there? What is that stuff? There's like these wacky colored melon things. Buy a couple of those, take them home and put them on top of your television.

How about a shoe store? This is a place that sells just shoes. How funny is that? You go in there and you'll see these tiny little shoes and huge monster shoes. You know what's next. You put on the big monster shoes. You clomp around in them and consider buying them for your next visit to the library.

Like everything else, you need to practice this "magic" gig to get good at it. At first it's like laughter yoga it might seem fake but if you do it over and over, you'll bring the magic back. And then....and then you're going to kill yourself with the pleasures of the mysteries of life.

p.s. if you find a buddy to experience the magic with, you'll get there twice as fast.
posted by storybored at 9:39 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

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