How do I get some joie de vivre?
June 3, 2006 7:54 AM   Subscribe

I don't seem to get very excited or enthusiatic or joyful or amazed about anything any more. How do I get that "exuberant enjoyment of life" feeling, or does it just wear off as you get older?
posted by janecr to Human Relations (26 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Get away. From everything, if possible. Take a week's vacation, drive somewhere on your own. Too often, we're just to busy to appreciate anything. The period in my life where I didn't go on road trips, I got to a point much like the one you describe.
posted by notsnot at 7:58 AM on June 3, 2006

Seems like what you need is to experience and practice Mindfulness
posted by sk381 at 8:21 AM on June 3, 2006

Try something new--you could discover a new passion. Hobbies... I never had hobbies before. Now that I do, I wake up happy on the weekends to pursue them, I find inspiration in things that were boring before, and I feel joy in accomplishing something.
posted by chelseagirl at 8:24 AM on June 3, 2006

My enthusiasm for life declined as I got older, but I seem to have been able to recapture it as of late. How? By setting some personal goals. For the past decade, I've just lived my life. I've had not overall goals other than "to be happy". The thing is, if your goal is to be happy, you won't be. You need to derive happiness indirectly, by having larger purposes.

Maybe one of your purposes could be "to publish a book" or "to teach kids about airplanes" or "to create a huge rose garden". Whatever the case, I've come to believe that pursuing a purpose is the best way to derive happiness.

The second-best-way (for me) is to get back to nature. Anytime I'm hiking or camping or otherwise spending time in natural surroundings, away from modern life (especially technology), my spirits soar. YMMV, of course, but I hear this is a common experience.

A couple of other things that help:
  • Exercise regularly, even if it's just going for a walk through your neighborhood several times each week.
  • Reduce the amount of time you spend in front of the television and/or computer.
  • Build friendships. Reconnect with old friends. Social networks help keep life interesting.
  • Spend time with kids. If you don't have kids of your own, spend time with your friends' children. Or volunteer someplace where you can interact with them.
All of these things have helped me recapture the joy of life I thought I had lost. Maybe one or more of these can help you do the same.
posted by jdroth at 8:24 AM on June 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

Kay Redfield Jamison's recent book, "Exuberance", is a great look at this question. She's a psychiatrist who has written extensively on depression, and here looks at the other side of the coin. It's very much a philosophical book rather than a self-help book, and it's a great read.
posted by judith at 8:35 AM on June 3, 2006

learn to ski.
posted by alkupe at 8:43 AM on June 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

p.s. Let me be the first mefite to recommend the ever-popular concept of "flow" (more here).
posted by jdroth at 8:47 AM on June 3, 2006 [2 favorites]

I'm with the "hobbies" people. But choose a complex, detailed project -- something that's impossible to do without really delving into it. You may not be enthusiastic about it at first, but if you choose your hobby well, you'll HAVE to get deeply involved with it in order to do it at all. And once you're immersed, enthusiasm should follow.

One of my hobbies is Shakespeare (I bring it up as an illustration, not to push you into my specific passion). My goal is to deeply understand the plays. I sit with a script and about 50 reference books and go through the play word-by-word. I refuse to let myself bypass a phrase without understanding what it means in all its nuances. Sometimes I don't want to get started -- I'm not initially enthused. But once I get into it, I'm INTO it.

The nice thing about something like Shakespeare is that it ties in with pretty much every other aspect of life. To understand the plays, I wind up having to research aspects of history, law, philosophy, etc. So I wind up with a bonus of enthusiasm for many parts of life.

See if you can find a hobby like this -- something that brings you in contact with stuff exterior to the hobby: photography, maybe.
posted by grumblebee at 8:56 AM on June 3, 2006

Do something different that meshes with the rest of what you want to do. Last weekend, I made 'weird bread' from scratch. Went out and got the dough, made the dough, let it rise, put some fillings into it, let it rise again, and cooked it. Eating it with some compatible foods nearly gave me a 'foodgasm' -- and got me to that exuberant point, which kept me on a high the entire weekend.
posted by SpecialK at 8:59 AM on June 3, 2006

Definitely do not assume that life just gets duller as you get older. It doesn't. But since routine will present you with fewer new experiences as you settle into a job and region and home, you'll find that you have to intentionally seek new experiences, which will provide you that exuberant feeling.

Challenge yourself. Articulate some dreams and things you've always wished to do. An adventure or exotic vacation trip can do wonders. Connect with people. Join community ventures that are exciting to you -- maybe stuff with theatre, music, or projects like park-building or creating a new program. Something that builds toward an achievement.

There were times, when I was younger, that I thought all the best and most wonderful days had passed. It was a complete illusion; I had just stopped developing myself and gotten lazy. Wonderful, magical experiences will seldom come walking up to your door. They have to be sought. Fortunately, the work you put into finding and creating great experiences for yourself will pay of a hundredfold.
posted by Miko at 9:26 AM on June 3, 2006 [4 favorites]

I found reading First Things First by Stephen Covey (of Franklin-Covey) helped me to set goals and really think about my life differently.

The book has a slight dose or spiritual to it which may make some uncomfortable, I choose to think of it more as a humanistic spirit than God Almighty.
posted by Mick at 9:44 AM on June 3, 2006

Caving. The intensity you experience of sensory deprivation underground, followed by the warm, green, scented rush of the surface will wake up anyone's soul.
posted by Rumple at 9:53 AM on June 3, 2006

Without thinking of them as "hobbies" -- because the word smells a little of stamp collecting and the like -- try to do "stuff" again.

When you were a kid, you probably did lots of stuff. You listened to music until you were an expert in certain areas, maybe about one particular band. You rode you bike places. You swam and played sports. You read every book by certain authors. You learned an instrument. Maybe you didn't think of any of it as a hobby, because you were just enjoying yourself, doing what you like to do.

What do you like to do? What did you used to do that you would like to do again? What have you always thought you might like to do? Do something that makes you sweat, something that makes you think, and something that makes you laugh.
posted by pracowity at 9:56 AM on June 3, 2006 [2 favorites]

I empathize.
My personal take...
It's not that life gets's just that it grinds you down. Reality of the day-to-day world tends to beat the crap out of dreams and ideals. Finding and exploring new directions are great suggestions. Unfortunately, I've found that one needs to have the financial wherewithal to be able to take time off from regular bill-paying while you explore those new directions. Hopefully, you are young enough (and, thus, not too deep into building a particular career) to be able to make serious lateral moves at will. (It helps to not have a family to support at the same time, too)

I sincerely hope you find your direction.

(Sorry about the down tone. It's been one of those weeks)
posted by Thorzdad at 9:58 AM on June 3, 2006

Moving farther away from the exuberance of my college years, I at first bemoaned my increasing lack of giddiness and crazy enthusiasm I used to experience. Nowadays, I count it as a blessing. I don't have the highs, but I also don't have the lows. My experiences tend to be deeper and more meaningful, but I had to discover that, it was not an automatic switch between youthfulness to maturity. Sometimes I miss the wacky creativity and intellectualism that my friends and I engaged in 'way back when', but that has been replaced by more thoughtful scholarship that my husband and I participate in together. So what I am saying is that the 'exuberant enjoyment of life' does indeed seem to wear off for many people as they age, but if done correctly, it will be replaced by a depth and thoughtfulness that can be just as fulfilling. I hope you find what you are looking for.
posted by msali at 10:04 AM on June 3, 2006

Anhedonia can be a symptom of chronic depression.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:04 AM on June 3, 2006

One thing that people who really enjoy life seem to have in common is that they don't care what other people think. Obviously, living a "normal" life means making some concessions to other people's opinions some of the time but it can easily get out of control to the point where you don't even know who you are any more. Maybe what you need is to worry about dignity a little less and see what happens.
posted by teleskiving at 11:14 AM on June 3, 2006

With age comes wisdom and breadth of experience. With experience comes lack of novelty. With wisdom comes perspective. The two work together.

If you're the type who's always looking for bigger and better experiences, perhaps you could take a step back and use your wisdom to determine whether you're truly unhappy, or just addicted to novelty.

If you decide that you're just being led around by the nose by your addiction to novelty, you can short-circuit the process. Treat everything you do as if it were the first time you had ever done it. This isn't easy to do, but it's the way to break out of the hold that the escalating spiral of expectations has upon you.

Now - What enjoyment comes from experiences distinct from the novelty of the experience itself? Does that enjoyment change with time?

Reading: Rumi, Kabir.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 11:35 AM on June 3, 2006

What a fantastic question (one that I share) and amazingly useful responses - Nice one everyone!

Particulary like the flow response from jdroth....

Thanks janecr - Helped me so much!
posted by pettins at 12:15 PM on June 3, 2006

"Human happiness comes not from infrequent pieces of good fortune, but from the small improvements to daily life."-Benjamin Franklin
posted by Wild_Eep at 12:33 PM on June 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

I was asking myself a similar question a couple months ago--- how can I recapture some child-like wonder and excitement. One of the things I did was purchase The Complete Calvin and Hobbes... started reading a few pages every day and soon I felt like it was coming back a little. Furthernore, I've been trying to do things more like a chile might... eat less, choose fun first sometimes, and look at things with a less critical eye. Seems to be helping me...
posted by mykl at 1:38 PM on June 3, 2006

There are a lot of good practical suggestions in this thread, many of which involve doing fun things for the first time.

Incidentally, did you see that car post comment a couple of days ago in which someone mentioned having convinced a co-worker to get a beige car because at 37 she was too old to drive a red one?

That's the attitude that grinds people down. Not that anyone needs a red car or anything (mind you, my own minimalist red car came from a great-aunt who stopped driving it after a stroke as she approached 80); but if you're hamstrung by weird and arbitrary ideas of what's appropriate or cool or still worth the effort at age n, it'll sure be tricky.

Also, you may be depressed, in which case the usual recommendation applies.
posted by tangerine at 1:42 PM on June 3, 2006

THANK YOU, tangerine, that red car comment has been bugging me for days now! I thought I was the only one!

I'm experiencing a similar loss of exuberance but am actively working to get it back...lots of exercising, looking into getting back into sports, maybe relearning the oboe. I think just trying and working to set new goals is helpful.
posted by airgirl at 3:09 PM on June 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

pracowity, thanks for that point about "hobbies". What a depressing and musty word it is, engendering who knows what mediocrities.
posted by zadcat at 3:31 PM on June 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

Swim in the ocean on a hot day. Take a little kid on a sled. Go hear a band you used to love play a venue where you can't sit down. Have sex in the afternoon and then go out for sushi and a beer, or take a nap. Life is so sweet. You're not too old, you're just working too hard. It's so corny to say, but please slow down and lighten up.
posted by eve harrington at 7:47 PM on June 3, 2006 [2 favorites]

Go paragliding.
posted by flabdablet at 11:00 PM on June 3, 2006

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