What to do when you're completely disinterested society?
November 9, 2014 1:42 PM   Subscribe

Late 20's. I have a stable job and income. Just one problem: I'm completely disengaged and disinterested in what our society has to offer. I tried consumerism and all I got was this pile of useless shit. I rebounded by taking on extreme minimalism: I own almost nothing now. I've looked into every hobby that could possibly interest me and found none of them engaging enough to pursue. What to do when you're completely disengaged from society?

I want to live in a future society like we see in sci-fi movies where people can jack into a deck and make their own reality. I've toyed with the idea of creating a fake alternate reality company that purports to offer this service, leading the customer on until the final steps and then "Surprise! Just kidding! We don't have this kind of technology yet." Vanilla Sky was a neat movie.

I've also thought about joining Scientology because it's at least a completely different reality - and I have nothing to lose. I honestly enjoyed Cruise's mad speed about being privileged to be in Scientology and how they can create better realities and conditions because at least he's found something that seems like a higher calling than the 9-5 grind followed by hobbies, intercourse and consumerism.

It's so utterly boring to be part of this society especially with knowledge that we basically have no purpose, and that we have to chose from the garbage on offer to create our own purpose. Isn't there something more meaningful than buying crap technology and occasionally volunteering to fight Ebola for that altriusm high?

Some part of me wants some world-changing phenomenon like a worldwide Ebola outbreak to happen just to shake things up and create novel experience. Living in a post-apocalyptic zombie world would at least be different from what we experience today.

I suppose this needs to be wrapped up in a question. Does anyone else feel very strongly the way I do? Is there a solution? Or do we just need to live out our lives utterly bored? Is there a stone I haven't turned over that I ought to?

Pre-emptive responses to common answers: "You should take up skydiving!": No. I've already explored most commonplace hobbies and they all bore me to tears. "You're depressed": Depression is a natural side effect of being disengaged. I'm not interested in fixing symptoms, I want to fix the underlying problem.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (56 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Literally everyone is going to say this, but regardless of your disclaimer, depression makes people feel the way you do. It is as easily a cause as it is an effect, and it's hard to know which it is without investigating both possibilities. I have depression, I feel this way. When I treat my depression, I get excited about my hobbies and stimulated by day-to-day life again. You don't have to go to a psychiatrist or even treat your depression if you are depressed, but otherwise yes you will probably end up joining some weird religions or cults like I did and then abandon them in about a year or two when you realize they're no different, and then maybe engage in some risk-taking behavior, and probably not resolve the underlying problem, which is that depressed brains require an insane amount of stimulation (sometimes more than is even possible) to stay engaged.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:51 PM on November 9, 2014 [35 favorites]

In other words, depression probably is the underlying problem. If you've had it for a long time you probably don't know you have it. Have you tried treating it in the past?

With depression the world is just a bunch of random objects with no connective tissue. Without depression reality and experience become a living organism.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:53 PM on November 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

This sounds like fairly text-book depression to me, and the answer is that you should probably be in therapy. Sorry you don't want to hear that, but literally anybody whose experienced depressive episodes will indentify with everything you just said.

I guess it's kind of a philosophical question as to whether depression is innate or a function of the environment, but either way, you're still depressed and bored.

You can either do something about it or I guess find some calling to pour your energy into so you don't waste all your time thinking about how boring and pointless life is.

Life is over before you know it, man. Use it well, you only get the one.
posted by empath at 1:54 PM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

" I've toyed with the idea of creating a fake alternate reality company that purports to offer this service, leading the customer on until the final steps and then "Surprise! Just kidding! We don't have this kind of technology yet." = dishonest, bully type behavior.

"I've also thought about joining Scientology because it's at least a completely different reality ..." Defining Scientology as a "reality" is a bit of an oxymoron.

"Isn't there something more meaningful than buying crap technology and occasionally volunteering to fight Ebola for that altriusm high?".... Yep, all around you... open your eyes a bit...

"Some part of me wants some world-changing phenomenon like a worldwide Ebola outbreak to happen just to shake things up and create novel experience.".. Sounds a bit sociopathic to me...

I agree, it sounds like depression...cloaked in some pretty immature, narcissistic presentations..

I would encourage engaging with some sort of therapy that will let you explore why you feel the way you do... there IS a reason...
posted by HuronBob at 1:55 PM on November 9, 2014 [51 favorites]

do you have any friends? have you ever fallen in love?

for a lot of people, community is key.

Also, if you're interested in a "different reality" you could consider that treating depression with pharmaceuticals is basically just another way to alter your reality slightly. Maybe changing your brain chemicals would be interesting enough to make you enjoy the world in some way.
posted by mdn at 1:57 PM on November 9, 2014 [12 favorites]

Your problem is you are investing yourself too much in the human world. Planet Earth has much more to offer than just that. Develop a strong empathy for and connection with the natural, non-human environment, and you may find yourself feeling a little more purposeful.
posted by turbid dahlia at 1:59 PM on November 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

(Not to say that humans are in any way special or separate from the natural order of things, but we do have a tendency to create artificial and arbitrary plastic barriers around everything we do or say or think, which fucks badly with one's perspective.)
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:01 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Depression IS the underlying problem.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:01 PM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Do you like anything? People, animals, books, music? Writing, drawing, daydreaming? Physical activity? Science? Helping others? Do you have a favorite color or food, even? Do you like sleeping or taking showers or eating pizza or masturbating?

I know you've preemptively dismissed depression, but people are going to mention it anyway, and for damn good reason. When I was interested in absolutely nothing and felt like I was just marking time until death, it was due to depression and not the inherent uninterestingness of the universe. The world is chock full of stuff to learn about and appreciate, and if you've done a thorough search and still turned up empty, it's time to recalibrate your mind. Many people recognize that society is full of bullshit and empty of meaning, and they still find things to capture their interest.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:02 PM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is SO a combination of depression and (as HuronBob indicated) narcissism. You think the reason you're disengaged from the world, is that you see truths that the rest of us are too dumb to see. That's a shitty way to lead your life, that will never make you happy. It will never lead you to meaning. It will never make your life interesting to you.

I have serious issues with existential nihilism, so it's not like I don't kind of get where you're coming from. But you even think that the fight against Ebola is nothing better than an "altruistic high" for others? That's not true for a lot of people. They care very deeply about the suffering of others. They want to help.

Altruistic behavior is the main way I combat my own issues of disengagement and meaninglessness (besides THERAPY AND POSSIBLY MEDS). Not just altruism toward other humans, but toward nature in general - like turbid dahlia said. If you think you're too smart/bored for even that, then you're in a pickle. On the other hand, if you're depressed and willing to work on that - then life can get better.

Anyway, nthing depression. I know you'd rather it be some more interesting than that, but them's the breaks.
posted by Coatlicue at 2:05 PM on November 9, 2014 [36 favorites]

Yeah, I've had the same exact feelings as you, though I never wanted to join a cult like Scientology or pretend to create and market a false reality so I could fuck with people. I did, however, wander through every day feeling like there was no purpose to anything, feeling bored and annoyed with consumer culture, feeling dissatisfied with relationships and hobbies.

I fixed it by going on anti-depressants. I'm sorry, but you're depressed and that IS the cause, not the effect. Don't believe me? Just try going on an SSRI and see how you feel after 6 months. The depression is what's telling you that it's not depression.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:05 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

You engage with society and find personal satisfaction by helping people. This can take many forms.

Do you have a lover? Do you have kids? A pet? With the vast majority of humans, the novelties of culture start to wane in the late 20s while the desire to settle down with a partner and raise a family starts to rise.

Some people prefer to throw themselves into a project or job that they believe will have a strong effect on helping people, whether that's art, building a bridge, nursing, or even driving a truck.

Don't know where to start? Just start volunteering somewhere near you.

Unless you're burnt out from helping people - and admittedly that does happen - you really need to sit down and start thinking about how you can give back.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 2:06 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Having deep, intimate relationships is the main thing I find interesting... the rest all seems to be ways of killing time to me too. But getting to know everything you can about someone, and realizing the longer you know them the more their still is to learn... that's special.
posted by metasarah at 2:19 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

This definitely sounds like depression to me. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. I suspect if you treat the root cause, the rest of it will start to seem better and more interesting.
posted by Alterscape at 2:34 PM on November 9, 2014

depression...cloaked in some pretty immature, narcissistic presentations..

Whoa, that's really negative. I would agree though that something big is missing from your life. It might be easy to get, or it might be highly, highly idiosyncratic and personal, and very, very difficult to get.

It's not your fault that you might not have this thing (or things) in your life, that you might not know quite what it is, that you might not have known there was even a thing to get.

I think for most people, it's "relationships and belonging to a group" and, for some people, highly specific sex acts. But those are generalities. It's the specifics, the personal yesssss, that matters.

This could be pretty easy, or it could be a really long, hard journey. But it's worth trying, because otherwise it's gray meaninglessness or screaming void.
posted by zeek321 at 2:37 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

(It's not your fault because you don't choose your culture, your genes, your parents, your childhood, etc. And those things might not have led you to explicitly frame, or effortlessly land on, things you personally need in your life.)
posted by zeek321 at 2:39 PM on November 9, 2014

For me, the reason that the world is engaging is because there are people I care about. In your entire post, you mention hobbies and work and things, but you never mention people. Do you care about your family? Do you have a partner/significant other? Do you have close friends? (Friends who wouldn't notice you're gone don't count.) Do you identify with a particular group of people and their culture?

I think there are definitely problems with our society, and that if you choose to see it a certain way, life is completely meaningless. But that doesn't mean it has to be meaningless to you.

A lot of what you are thinking about doing sounds like running away from meaningful connections. Have people invested in the idea of something and then telling them it's just a lie? Hoping everyone dies from ebola? Why do you care so little about other people that you think other (innocent) people's deep disappointment and deaths are fair prices to pay just so you can alleviate your boredom?
posted by ethidda at 2:59 PM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's so utterly boring to be part of this society especially with knowledge that we basically have no purpose, and that we have to chose from the garbage on offer to create our own purpose.

What do you mean by "this society"? All of human history up to you? Everywhere on earth?

Do you read books, listen to music, look at art? Know any languages besides your first one? Travel? If not, maybe you should try some of these.
posted by BibiRose at 3:08 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

While I agree with everyone upthread saying this is pretty classic depression, the way you phrase your question makes it seem like one of your major struggles at the moment is framing yourself as a passive receiver of the universe around you.

The swing from materialism to minimalism is two sides of the same coin, which doesn't seem to be working for you. I think that in your case, "be[ing] the change" you want to see in the world is going to come down to actually embracing the idea that you're going to work to make what you desire in the world, rather than trying to change yourself in an attempt to be happy with your current situation.

In terms of practical first steps in this kind of situation, I had good results from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The Metafilter default of CBT would also probably be helpful. DBT might be another therapy modality to look into. Also, if you have a primary care doc that you trust, chat with them about this. Sometimes meds are a needed component of getting your mental health under control.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 3:16 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've also thought about joining Scientology because it's at least a completely different reality - and I have nothing to lose.

Wanting to join a cult because you have nothing to lose is a symptom of very low self-esteem and major depression, not narcissism. (Wanting to start a cult would be narcissism.)

See a psychiatrist and get professional medical help — medication and, possibly, therapy. You will get no usable medical help from an Internet forum.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 3:38 PM on November 9, 2014 [15 favorites]

I know someone who has expressed the same sentiments you have (apart from the flirting with Scientology idea) and he manages his life pretty well by being deeply into writing about the world he wants to see, dark and dystopian though it may be. He and some friends formed a website for publishing their fictions. Is he happy? I don't know that it is in his vocabulary, but he does feel he has a purpose. Have you tried writing?

I semi-get many of the points you make about the world, and life in general. I am not depressed. I found great solace in reading Camus, who understood the world and "reality" as absurd. The thing is, if none of this matters, then you are truly free to experience life as an experiment. Can you get to a place where you just try things for enjoyment? I am NOT advocating harming/misleading others - your website idea would be a bit worrying, but I believe that you may have been saying that tongue in cheek. (The very fact that you presented this to the Mefi community suggests to me that you're not actually a sociopath, but really looking for suggestions.)

In my own life, I have found that appreciation of small moments brings more meaning than big ones. Did I like the sunset today? Was it good to sleep well? They are tiny things, but in the course of a day, they prove the most important.
posted by Otter_Handler at 4:52 PM on November 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

My advice is to try to reproduce some of the stuff you think is garbage. It's harder work than you think and probably would keep you occupied for a while. I'm just guessing, but say you find Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus and Sam Smith and people who make pies in Mason jars pretty vapid. Or football games and Nascar. Try learning to play and sing (at the same time) a Taylor Swift song, try making a pie in a Mason jar. Learn everything that goes into a winning Nascar race (personally I thought Nascar was pointless until I learned more about it).

Or: get deeper into the few things you did find interesting here. Write a business plan for your fake agency (complete with Powerpoint slides and a financial roadmap) or a script that mimics the themes in Vanilla Sky.

My point is, critiquing things and other people is easy and I feel like what makes people think "everything is vapid and boring and empty" is that they have taken or looked at taking two steps down the path of what makes those things what they are and then declared their lack of interest.

This is an aside to the idea that you should look into the possibility that you are depressed, because that seems like the main issue to me, too.
posted by sweetkid at 5:08 PM on November 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

I agree with others that you sound depressed, and that it's not necessarily a byproduct of your ennui. If not a cause, it may well be deeply wrapped up in perpetuating the cause that you won't be able to get at other things without doing something about the depression.

However. If what you want is a completely different way of living, against the grain of consumerism and minimalism, try a different approach. Try actually engaging with the world and making things. That could be starting up a biodynamic farm or taking up carpentry or writing the script for a film that shows reality as you would prefer it to be. I suspect that something physical and practical would work better than something intellectual because it sounds like you're too much in your head as it is, but ultimately the opposite of consuming is creating.

As for your interest, with all due respect, bugger that. Find something that is really hard that maybe you don't enjoy and do it anyway, particularly if it benefits other people or does something useful. You may find that approaching the world as if it's not here solely for your enjoyment and amusement is another paradigm shift. Zombie apocalypse or ebola epidemic causing widespread death, pain and suffering just because you're bored? I understand that that's just a part of you, but honestly. Think about someone other than your own bored self. Better still, do something for someone other than yourself.

Finally, you may be interested in some of the answers to a question I asked a few months ago.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:22 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

You may be interested in Derrick Jensen's writings, specifically Endgame and/or Dreams, though Culture Of Make Believe and Language Older Than Words share themes with his newer, more militant POV.

Though I agree depression is possibly at the root of this sensation that you're casting about for a point to life, I'm not a therapist. Also, this culture really is sickening, boring and depressing in many ways. Jensen identifies the how and the why of these feelings of boredom, apathy and alienation while trying to convince his readers to see the world as more alive than what this culture would have us believe/purchase/consume. He's not futuristic at all, more of a cynical animist, but you may find some comfort or connection with his books.
posted by zinful at 5:48 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's the textbook description of what you said in your post. Yeah, it sucks to have a mental disorder, but buddy, that's what it is.

You can either wallow and divert yourself, and jump into different religions, and float through the world, expecting something to change.

Or you can go to a good doctor, discuss your feelings and symptoms openly and honestly, with intellectual curiosity and a willingness to admit that you don't know everything. You may discover that medical science may have something to offer you.

But you know we sheeple. We're only happy because we're on drugs. Yes. That's the fucking point.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:02 PM on November 9, 2014 [14 favorites]

It must be nice to have tried everything by your late twenties. I haven't managed to. I hope when you say everything our society has to offer, you're referring to just one country - for purposes of argument, I'll assume the U.S.

I still cannot believe you've even explored all the freaking "isms". There is a truly ridiculous number of philosophies alone worth exploring. I wouldn't recommend religion to anybody, but there are enough obscure, different ones that any bored person could find something different. Ever consider the life of a buddhist monk, as described in this article?

You've poured a few years into all the basic sciences? Invented something wholly new at all? Spent 8 years trying to make even bad art, or attempted a masterwork?

I consume a fair amount of culture, so believe me: If I sat down and committed myself to just reading great science fiction, I'd never come close to running out. I can't even keep up with my local library's recently released section, largely because I have long work weeks. But still! There is a tremendous profusion of books, games, movies, and music. I'd think it was great if I could just commit my life to enjoying all the culture constantly being produced for our benefit.

There is so much.

You've been to all seven continents? Even 30 of the 50 U.S. states? Know about Guam and already visited Midway island?

You've enjoyed French films of the 1970s? Explored all the depression to be found in the great plays and literature of Russia?

Enjoyed the tender embrace of a woman, or a man, or a transgendered person? Discovered why there's so much ado about nothing?

Understood what Robert McKee's character is saying in this scene?

Read, dissected, understood and rebutted all the arguments on this website?

Already gotten bored with all the topics regularly presented on the front page posts?

I'm gonna be honest:

Your ask kinda pisses me off. There's culture enough for the greediest person. Enough variety of places, people and things on earth. Your question very much seems to imply that you have experienced very little of all of it, and yet you're already bored of everything. I know I know very little, about very little! I'm incredibly ignorant! That alone is reason to keep looking. If you think you know enough to give up on all of society already, you need a serious perspective realignment. All I can read here is that you tried consumerism, minimalism, and hobbies. That's two "isms" and things you thought might be fun. Tom Cruise feels empty and found meaning in Scientology, so you consider that a respectable attitude?

To be human is to feel a hole in your life that you feel compelled to try filling. Most people on this planet have that problem. It's been posted about endlessly on this website. Have you already tried everything in every single cry for help in ask metafilter threads? There's quite a lot of them.

You didn't try enough.
posted by Strudel at 7:16 PM on November 9, 2014 [26 favorites]

What most people do for purpose is start families and then spend the next 40 years launching their kids, saving enough money they won't burden them in their old age, and relaxing with hobbies and friends and glasses of wine when time allows. It ain't that high fallutin' but it's life.
posted by MattD at 8:10 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oy. I see a lot of unduly harsh responses here. The question was asked in good faith and what it describes seems to reflect an unpleasant and unwanted mental condition (which is experienced by many people) so let's go easy on the hostile sarcastic criticisms.

To give useful advice,I think it would help to know much, much more about the details of your life, the people in your life and what they mean to you, your job and what it means to you, where you see yourself in the future and what you have experienced in your past. Professional therapy is a suggestion because it would give you an opportunity to explore the feelings you describe and connect them to these specifics, as well as looking into possible treatments for any underlying brain-chemistry imbalances (which are extremely common, treatable, and do cause feelings similar to what you describe). Just be aware that you're far from alone in feeling the way that you do, but that there are ways of overcoming these feelings and there are professionals out there whose job it is to help you do this.

One other thing: exercise.
posted by moorooka at 8:13 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

That's no way to live. For what it's worth, I don't think you're a sociopath or a narcissist. Who are these people who are diagnosing you over the internet with their English degrees, based on the merits of a single post?

I could have written most of what you wrote. I've been there. (Without the Scientology part.) If I'm interpreting you accurately, then it feels like lurking on a dating site and seeing the same lists of interests in everybody's profiles: hiking, rock climbing, canoeing, playing an instrument, and so on, and it all looks the same because they're just words on a page. When you're so far outside of society that all hobbies come across as mere words on a page, the same old thing, of course you're going to be bored. I might not find a list of someone's interests terribly compelling to read, but when you're out there in the real world hiking or rock climbing or playing music, your mind is focused on the activity and you'll find that it's actually fun. Lists of "isms" won't do justice to anything.

It's just one data point, but I'm dealing with depression right now and once again I can relate to your type of current worldview. What worked for me, before I recently severed all social ties and commitments and hobbies and volunteering and everything (not recommended, btw), was to get involved. Yes, meet people and find a group or cause to identify with. It sounds like the lack of mental stimulation is a self-fulfilling prophecy for you: you find the world boring because you're bored.

You don't have to do what everyone else is doing, nor to necessarily adopt their goals and values. I know that for me personally, settling down and starting a family is the opposite of what I'd find fulfilling; it might be what a lot of people aim for at your age, but for me it would feel like a dead end. YMMV.

Once you break your own patterns and start to build momentum, you might find your own idiosyncratic hobbies that you find genuinely interesting. For me, it's lucid dreaming. It comes naturally to me and it's a wonderful gift. My subconscious brain creates incredibly complex, sometimes plausible storylines that sometimes make great bounding points for written stories once I'm awake, and the fun of it is that I get to alter my own reality or perspective while I'm dreaming. I can change the surroundings, time travel, visit the world of the dead, operate planes, meet snow leopards in the Himalayas, go on adventures at sea, battle zombies, shapeshift, explore impossible architectures, switch between different characters of different genders, ages, and ethnicities, fall in love, die and be reborn, among so many other things. My point is that the human mind is capable of so much infinite creativity that you would be awestruck at the possibilities within your own brain once you find a way to tap into that wellspring of ideas. Don't take your own current perspective for granted. Nothing is immutable.

Hit me up on Memail if you want to chat or trade ideas. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that we like similar books or movies.
posted by quiet earth at 8:19 PM on November 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'd also agree with most people here that you do come across as being depressed. That isn't your fault. I'm disappointed with the speculation here about narcissism and sociopathy. Those are serious personality disorders that should not be diagnosed by anyone over the internet, let alone someone without a Ph.D in clinical psychology.
posted by quiet earth at 8:31 PM on November 9, 2014

First off, "disinterest" means that you have no stake in the outcome of a decision; we want judges to be disinterested. You're uninterested.

Second, yeah, welcome to a pretty common experience that feels totally novel. Play some Destroy All Monsters until you can laugh at it.

Third, it sounds like depression but I tend to think of therapy as pretty useless for depression compared to medication. Give it a try before you kill an Arab.
posted by klangklangston at 10:55 PM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Punk music. Listen to a lot of it. Find a club where they play it loudly and jump in a mosh pit. Slam your body against other people who feel the same way.

> ... we have to chose from the garbage on offer to create our own purpose.

Make your own garbage. It'll be garbage; that's fine. Make your own garbage. I dare you. Read Lipstick Traces, and learn about the messy streak of subterranean desire that's been running through modern society for at least a century.

> Some part of me wants some world-changing phenomenon like a worldwide Ebola outbreak to happen just to shake things up and create novel experience.

Why wait for Ebola? You can be brave and create novel experiences for yourself.

Also, BTW, you sound a little depressed. Regardless of whether it leads or follows the disengagement, you should be aware that it is affecting how you view the world.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:27 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

All I can say is that, like some others, I've been there and done that, and THAT is essentially Major Depression.

Being disengaged from culture or society is something that is very ... commonly felt in our modern world. See Camus, The Stranger, written a century ago. It has been expressed and reified many times in different eras. The hippies rebelled against conformism and created the counter-culture; fundamentalist religion rebels against what it sees as the downsides of liberalism. People have been escaping from their humdrum lives in many different ways for centuries, creating religious sects and crossing the world to find the perfect place to found a colony where they could live the way they wanted to. Look at the Great Awakenings, look at the Utopian movement, look at intentional communities today.

So I don't think that what you feel is so strange. It may be characteristic of our modern age that we medicalize it and call it depression, but it's not really possible to "treat" it by getting in a wooden boat and crossing the Atlantic anymore. One of the more bizarre instances was what a new documentary (on Netflix streaming) calls The Galapagos Affair. Basically, a group of Germans in the 1920s left Europe for an uninhabited Pacific island and tried to live there, three groups each in their own way, and ultimately with apparently tragic consequences for several of them. I think it's a little bit of a cautionary tale about believing you can really change people all that much just by changing their circumstances. (It even quotes the aphorism popularized by Buckaroo Banzai, "Wherever you go, there you are.")

Narcissism is a harsh charge. I don't see that you're doing things that are harming (physically or emotionally) others. But you may be engaging in a form of solipsism where you engage primarily only with your own view of the world -- leading to self-reinforcement and an intellectually auto-didactic approach.

When you say that at least an epidemic would be different, I laugh a hollow laugh. I remember the Cold War, and then the end of the Cold War, a massive dislocation of conventional wisdom and the actual condition of people in the world, and then the advent of the war on terror, and now the globalized effects of the Great Recession. We're getting different and it's just like that other aphorism of the supposed curse, "May you live in interesting times." For a look at that sort of different, watch When the Levees Broke or its fictional counterpart, the HBO series Tremé.

I don't know quite what you mean about "choosing from the crap on hand to create your own purpose"-- I mean, your purpose is only what you make of it. I guess the thing here is the Apple campaign about Thinking Different, "Here's to the crazy ones..." Obviously you can only deal with what things are already in this world, but if you have enough creative or technological or scientific foundation, you might be in a position to create something entirely new. But some of that is luck of timing and circumstance.
posted by dhartung at 1:06 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Maybe you should find a way to volunteer with animals. No matter how much the rest of the world sucks, or you think it does, can you really resist smiling when there's a puppy in front of your face being adorable? The more moments you can have when you're not thinking about this existential bullshit, the better.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:14 AM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

You really need to fix the depression. I'm sure that part of you knows that your depression is the disease, not the symptom, but it's much easier to decide it's the rest of the world that sucks.

In the meantime grow some food. Seriously. Go plant a vegetable garden. You want alternate reality? How about a reality in which you feed yourself and others, a reality in which you nurture something to help it grow to its maximum potential, and you get some free vitamin D while you're doing it. Go plant some seeds and tend to them.
posted by lydhre at 2:41 AM on November 10, 2014

The depression is what's telling you that it's not depression.

Quoted for truth. That's what depression does: it lies. It lives inside you and tells you whatever it takes to keep you from eradicating it. So of course, it's telling you that even if you have a depression, that is not the problem to be solved.
It sends you off on a wild goose chase, trying to find other things that will make you feel better. Anything, as long as you don't see through its lies and realise that you really do need to get that depression treated.

It's your enemy. Don't believe the lies it's telling you. It's a trap.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:47 AM on November 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

I have a stable job and income ... I rebounded by taking on extreme minimalism: I own almost nothing now. I've looked into every hobby that could possibly interest me and found none of them engaging enough to pursue. What to do when you're completely disengaged from society?

Owning almost nothing is a good start.

Now take it to the next level: at the end of every single day, work out how you're going to get comfortably through tomorrow while spending 0.5% less money than you did today (clue: something you do is probably going to need at least 0.5% more time. Also, you will end up needing a bicycle).

If you can keep that up for a year, then you will end the year spending about 1/6 of what you're spending now. And with any kind of stable job, that is going to get you a fairly substantial pile of savings.

You will also be quite a lot busier than you are now, because you will be doing many more things for yourself instead of paying other people to do them for you. Most likely you will also be growing more of your own food (hint: get a few chickens. Layer pellets cost a lot less than the eggs the chooks will turn them into; plus, the chooks will eat up all your food scraps so your garbage won't stink any more; plus, watching chooks go about their business is good for your mental health).

Once you have that pile of savings, cut your working hours back until the pile is only just growing. Now you have time.

And if even after learning to actually look after your life and your body and your living space, you're still frequently bored and still tempted to hand over your money and your mind to $cientologi$ts who don't actually give a shit about you: learn to look after your mind as well. Transcend boredom.
posted by flabdablet at 4:42 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your question has eerie echoes of one of my previous ones. You might want to give it a read-through.
posted by Acheman at 4:50 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nothing really does matter and no, there is no deeper purpose. But for someone who wants deeper purpose, you're approaching this from a rather shallow angle. Why would skydiving help you? Scientology? It sounds more like you're looking for distractions from boredom. Which might mean you're depressed. But I'm not sure how relevant that is. And you don't have to be depressed to recognize that there isn't a deep, inherent meaning to our lives or to be dissatisfied with consumer culture.

You sound bored. You sound like you want to be entertained. You sound like a total product of consumer culture. And you sound like you want that culture to be your solution. It never will be and if you're serious, you'll need to look outside of it. You sound like you don't really care about anything and I agree that it's hard to care about crap but, despite everything, there is more to life than crap.

If you are going to live in this world and have a problem with the shallowness of consumer culture, why not immerse yourself in what's going on in the world and try to affect change? News can be a hobby. The more you know about what is going on and how people are being treated and mistreated, all the injustices, etc etc, maybe you will find something you care about and want to learn more about to change. Watch some Adam Curtis documentaries. Read about the things we aren't told. Obviously the change is pointless in an everlasting sense but not in the sense that people are living and experiencing and suffering now and will be for awhile, at least.
posted by Polychrome at 5:26 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

You only really discuss your relationship with things and stories in your question, but what about your relationships with people, pets, and your environment?

You sound like a dead bored suburbanite, so move! go live somewhere remotely, build a shelter, maybe move countries just to have to learn a new language or find new food or whatever.

Build some relationships with people. Make friends (keep meeting people until you find some that click). get a cat and tease it with string. Ride a lama.

Maybe try moving somewhere less consumerism base (does'nt even have to be out of the USA) and get some work doing something tangible (like construction, landscaping, some sort of building something) so you can see a point to how you just spent your time.

Stop searching for labels. I don't know what happened to my generation (I'll be 30 in a few weeks) but on the internet every needs to present themselves with a series of checkboxes and it bleeds into their in person existance. I call it the pintresting of life. You labeled yourself consumerist, then labeled yourself minimalist, you can label yourself scientologist, and in the end the only label you should really be wearing is [the most awesome anonymous evar!]. Do what you want, like what you like, and just be you, don't try to label yourself and find like people that way because it creates a bunch of forced fake lamesauce all around.
posted by WeekendJen at 5:34 AM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Translate Homer.
posted by michaelh at 5:34 AM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

There's another option besides consumerism and minimalism: MAKE SOMETHING. You don't mention having any chronic disease or other grinding unbearable physical weakness to get in your way, so enjoy that while it lasts (time comes for us all). Use this period of your life to contribute something, rather than either taking or eschewing.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:41 AM on November 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

A lot of good things have been said, but also, the very notion of "hobbies" may be giving you problems. It suggests things people do to pass time. Looking to hobbies in that sense may well seem like a bandaid solution. What you want is something that actually enriches your life, creates depth and connection. Which is probably what a lot of people what a lot of people mean what they say "hobby" but I think you may be dismissing the idea because it has connotations of shallowness.
posted by BibiRose at 8:28 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Depression is a natural side effect of being disengaged. I'm not interested in fixing symptoms, I want to fix the underlying problem."

Totally. The systemic machinations of Late Capitalism are totally alienating our basic humanity.

"I've already explored most commonplace hobbies and they all bore me to tears."

Ah. This is the problem. You aren't trying hard enough. How long did you try hobby x? 2 weeks? Of course learning to play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on piano is boring. But you have to learn to do that and spend years practicing before you can experience the thrill of playing Rachmaninoff. Of course painting a landscape is boring when you suck at it and have no patience to achieve the ultimate expression of your unique humanity. Find something that's slightly tolerable and stick with it. Practice.

You want challenge, but you don't see that the ultimate challenge is to push through the boredom and tedious practice of obtaining skill to get that ultimate expression.

I recommend joining a punk band.
posted by j03 at 8:45 AM on November 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

I agree with the others that depression may be a big issue, but if you're tired of hearing about it, try watching this old, corny, yet very valid 1950s educational film.
posted by JanetLand at 8:51 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Depression and narcissism are often tightly intertwined. People chuck around the word "narcissist" as an insult, but it's really just an aspect of all human personalities, which can also sometimes be overdeveloped, or misguided.

Narcissism is not necessarily about seeing yourself as the best. It's really more about the fantasy that you are the center of the universe, in an almost solipsistic sense. You see through the veil - everybody else plods along. You are bored and depressed - everyone else is satisfied with what the world has to offer. The world is boring to you - why can't you live in an exciting time?

The sad fact of reality is that how you feel is actually very, very common. And the key to breaking out of it is to recognize that you are not alone in this feeling. The only hope is in other people - not just helping them, but also just plain being one of them.

We are all in this together. We are all people whose minds can travel the universe and dream huge dreams and all the rest, even though the reality is that our brains are simply parts of our bodies, and our bodies are temporary, fleshy bags of guts and water. We all age and die and go away.

You have already discovered that items will not make you happy. Some people go their entire lives without learning this. You might discover later that self-help schemes and cults and all the rest will not make you happy, either.

And you may never be happy. And that's okay. Not many people are.

What you can be instead is a person, among people. You will be strengthened and better able to face the day when you realize that so, so, so many people are fighting the same fight as you.

Read Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death. Read Hardcore Zen.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:23 AM on November 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

Okay, yeah, maybe depression is making things a bit worse, but this isn't a problem that Zoloft or Paxil is going to fix. It sounds like you're hitting against some very deep existential issues, and you're right: buying things, volunteering, exercising, eating right, getting time outside, meditating, etc. isn't going to make those issues go away. You may be able to distract yourself from them for a while, and you may be able to get a sufficient quality of life that makes them less important to you, or you may even be able to develop a sense of peace with knowing that they're there. But it sounds like you know already that these aren't real solutions.

This is the realm of philosophy and religion. There is a world of thought and all kind of faith traditions to draw from that deal with these issues. The best approach is to keep, as well as you can, an open mind. Read and research, of course, but always include viewpoints that you don't necessarily agree with as well. Seek to understand them. I think that it's crucial to talk with people as well. Clergy people of all faiths have, in my experience, been happy to talk about these things, even if they don't have the answers. Friends who are willing to discuss can be very helpful too.
posted by whiterteeth at 9:51 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

A couple months ago, I sent some messages to a friend that echoed some of what you say here. And I've had some very dark, bleak, bored times in my past, so I understand some of where you're coming from.

My recent messages to my friend were about how I felt like my life didn't matter and had nothing interesting or of value in it, either to offer other people, or to experience for myself. I have a lucky life, but still felt this way largely because my JOB doesn't matter - nothing I do on a daily basis is important. (I sell trinkets. Who cares.)

I cringe to think about these feelings now, because as it turned out, it was so easy for me to climb up out of that spot. In my case, all I had to do was discover the right program to volunteer with. Now 3-5 times a week I go help kids get really necessary physical therapy at an equine program. I get to see their strength improve, and I get to hang out with and learn about horses.

This is a huge boost to my mood because it's pretty hard to feel shitty or uninterested when I'm around a bunch of kids excited out of their minds to be riding horses. Like, try and feel sorry for yourself when a 4-year-old who cant walk is laughing and screaming because on horseback, he can win a race. Helping that moment happen pretty much makes me feel like Superman.

It's also a lot of exercise and fresh air, is going to look killer on my resume, and gives me something to talk about at parties. Who doesn't want to hear about the horse who likes chapstick so much he'll lick it off your face?

This might not be the solution for you (although if it sounds cool, these programs are all over the place and generally require no horse experience - message me if you want) and I don't mean to suggest that volunteering would instantly mend you. But if you found the right way to make yourself honestly valuable to someone who needed your help, I think that might give you a boost back to a point where you could get interested in your world, and in other people.

Please keep trying to find your thing. I bet it's out there.
posted by jessicapierce at 10:04 AM on November 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

Study astrology, mysticism, and ancient occult knowledge, and learn to view the world through a symbolic lens.
posted by cosmicbeast at 12:14 PM on November 10, 2014


I got some of the shit shit going on as I approach my mid-30s, but I've also followed a lot of the advice in this thread so while other people are spot-on about step 1, here's step 2:

You gotta internalize the idea that past your 20s, life goes at a different pace. It seems to go by faster in some ways, but paradoxically the changes in the world around you slow down. Things stop seeming novel and interesting because they don't change so fast - friends get married, have chilren, buy houses. Careers and finances stabilize. The Next Big Thing starts looking like the Last Big Thing. Life gets unapolegtically super boring. OH WHAT A CELL PHONE WATCH? SIGN ME THE !@%& UP.

This is a tricky path to navigate for people like us. We crave change, we crave dynamic movement and variety and authenticly interesting experiences. As much as there are great books and songs and some freaking TED talks and insights from therapists, nothing will satisfy until you find this path.

The key part of the puzzle, at least it appears to me, is to accept that it will be slow-going. It's gonna take some time, some consistent strategic changes in life that you need to stick to day after repetitive day. We're playing a long game now, running a marathon. Pace yourself, make a plan you have faith in and stick to it.

Second, as much as people might tell you not to, hold onto childhood irrationality like your prized possesion. Remember the things you wanted as a child? Somewhere in there you still do - hold onto those things because they'll sustain you well into adulthood. Don't let anyone else try to give you a reason to keep going, make one for yourself that really, truely motivates you.

For reference:

My mother and father are just like this too. They started a company together building high-tech equipment and, in the midst of raising two kids, they managed to find time to build and race vintage cars, competitively jump horses and start a 2nd non-profit education organization.

I personally am clearing a decade in feature-film VFX. This was my childhood dream and is neither an easy nor well-paying job but fuck it, it's what I want to do. I commute every day on a motorcycle and have 4 pet rats. Because, why the hell not?

I married a beautiful, brilliant, difficult Aussie girl who shares my love of ridiculous shit and she works on films also - because that was her childhood dream and who cares if it's practical or not.

Shits not always rosy or particularly easy all the time, but we all know who we are and where we want to go and what we want. I call that a win, even if the process is ongoing.

Anyway, my point is that while they very well may be some brain chemistry issues to sort out, it sounds like you're struggling with simply having a difficult personality. Just go with it, ride the wave, figure out what you like and don't apologize for doing it.

Embrace the idea that you're an adult now which means there's only rules you make for yourself. Eat ice cream for breakfast. Become an astronaut. Get a tattoo. Do whatever makes you happy.
posted by misterdaniel at 12:54 PM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was going to link you to a bunch of stuff for anhedonia, but RB beat me to it.

Anhedonia, you've got it.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:39 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I only saw one other person mention this: study the occult, practice magic. You can shape your own reality. You'll feel differently about the boring physical mundane when you're in control of your true will. I am like you- nihilistic and bored and din't care a whit for "society"-and some of the things that I study have truly and permanently changed my mental state for the better. Please message me if you would like to chat about this.

Another important thing I saw mentioned above is "fuck it, do what makes you happy" by the dude with a motorcycle and 4 rats. The other thing that really changed me is that I started living my life according to what 11-year old me thought was cool and just totally indulging myself in all of it. I am incredibly happy and my nihilistic outlook has changed from pretty bleak to "it's a cosmic joke anyways, so might as well have fun". Not everything I find cool, interesting, stylish, or worthwhile jives with what modern culture deems normal or even acceptable but who cares? Shit is fantastic in my own little world.
posted by ElectricGoat at 3:43 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there a stone I haven't turned over that I ought to?

some would see your situation as a spiritual one -- check out these new-agey but related articles:
How To Escape Boredom
A Quote by Eckhart Tolle on boredom, mind, practice, stillness, self, and anger
The Art of Detachment
Attachment Is So Powerless...
posted by mrmarley at 6:08 AM on November 11, 2014

I disagree with most of the comments about depression. It sounds to me like an existential crisis. Life is meaningless. That's just the truth. Nothing is inherently meaningful or inherently interesting.

Now, that we are clear on that, get cracking, and create meaning and find something you can be interested in. That alternative reality you crave can be created. Get to it. Living off the grid. Creating homes for the homeless. Dismantling racism. Getting potable water to communities without it. Gathering 1,000 people to discuss your favorite TV show from childhood.

Choosing what your alternative reality will be is difficult, and it sounds like you have given up after only two attempts: consumerism and minimalism. Sorry, neither of those worked out for you, but there are lots of other options. Keep trying.
posted by hworth at 5:57 AM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

The last minute and a half segment of this video reminded me of your post and what I believe ultimately is going wrong for you.

I also recommend this book: Capitalist Realism

Anhedonia, you've got it. Here's why.
posted by j03 at 6:40 AM on November 13, 2014

If the world bores you-- I suggest treating it as a challenge, your life's project. Maybe: brainstorm and pursue entrepreneurial ventures. Write the next Great American Play. Be an artist and create an exhibit of outlandish mixed media pieces with the exploration of your existential boredom as the overarching theme. Find or build a community of people who think and feel the way you do.

I consider life an unearned gift, so to me, it has inherent meaning in that, as Kurt Vonnegut once quipped..."We're here to get each other through this thing, whatever it is."

Perhaps think deeper about whether you want to leave a "mark" on this world, and if so, what kind of "mark" that would be?

Good luck!
posted by tackypink at 12:50 PM on November 14, 2014

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