Joie de vivre
November 2, 2006 8:16 AM   Subscribe

What are your secrets for preserving joy in your life?

Background: I'm in my late twenties, and am working as a lawyer at a very interesting, rewarding job with good hours. My lovely boyfriend similarly has a great lawyer job with good hours. We have lots of friends and loving families. We're in good health and exercise frequently. When we were younger, we both traveled overseas for a couple of years, and consider those to be some of the best years of our lives.

However, I've noticed increasingly (past 4 years or so) that I seem to be losing my joie de vivre, as it were. When I was younger, the world seemed so much more colorful and riveting. I used to make lists of things I wanted to do/see in my life. These days, for all the amazing luck I've had in my life so far, my world seems gray and it also seems to be zooming by. It's not that I'm unhappy, it's just that my days seem to be consumed with exercise, work, chores, and a bit of relaxation in front of the TV bc I'm exhausted. I have a mild interest in learning new languages or improving my yoga, but it's only mild whereas in the past it would have been a passionate interest.

So my questions, is this just a function of aging, or are there ways to preserve that feeling of vibrancy and energy? (Writing this makes me think I may be mildly depressed, but I don't feel depressed, I actually feel pretty content and happy most of the time. I'm a bit anxious about the future and my family's health, but otherwise I feel pretty happy.) What are your tips for enjoying life so that it doesn't flash by?

I tried to find prior questions like this and struck out, but maybe I was searching incorrectly.
posted by Amizu to Health & Fitness (39 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Walk to work--it's good exercise, of course, and it keeps you out of traffic. But you'll also find it gives you a real sense of connectedness to those around you.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:19 AM on November 2, 2006

I'm always happiest when I have a particular future event to focus on. Planning next year's vacation, awaiting by daughter's birth. It's always a bit of a letdown when the event passes, but then I find something new to look forward to.
posted by saffry at 8:26 AM on November 2, 2006

posted by myeviltwin at 8:29 AM on November 2, 2006

Joy is like a dog turd. If you're not looking too carefully, you might step in it. Or something.

My life is gray by default, but I have no reason to assume I won't get occasional unexpected fits of happiness, because it's happened quite often before.
posted by Anything at 8:39 AM on November 2, 2006

Spending time outside and allowing yourself to truly observe and appreciate the world around you.
I have found that I can go from feeling sort of ho-hum to abolute amazement and joy in only a couple of minutes just by taking a little extra time to see the "hidden" things that others pass by.
posted by nekton at 8:39 AM on November 2, 2006

Volunteer? I'm sure there are countless non-profits near you that could use legal advice. Or, if you want to do something unrelated to your work then find groups to volunteer with in other capacities - Special Olympics, a food bank, the list is endless. I've always found working to help others makes life seem a lot better.
posted by valleys at 8:40 AM on November 2, 2006

After talking to a psychologist/therapist, I started taking tyrosine, an amino acid. My wife swears it's made a significant difference in my mood - I'm apparently a lot more upbeat and less crabby.

I will be the first to admit that it may be a placebo effect, but there has been research done on using tyrosine to boost levels of catecholamines in the brain when "normal" levels are, in fact, lower than normal.

Some people report that it helps with mild depression and even if it doesn't help, it's safe in low doses (500mg) as it's just an amino acid. You could buy supplements or just eat lots of meat. It's not very expensive either.

I know what you're talking about. I don't feel as energetic as I did 10 years ago. Too bad it took me this long to figure everything out, only to be too pooped out do do anything about it.
posted by GuyZero at 8:47 AM on November 2, 2006 [3 favorites]

Get a good pair of headphones, the big DJ kind, and every now and then, instead of watching TV, listen to music with them, in the dark, lying in bed.

Now this is what I want you all to do:
If you got faults, defects or shortcomings,
You know, like arthritis, rheumatism or migraines,
Whatever part of your body it is,
I want you to lay it on your radio, let the vibes flow through.
Funk not only moves, it can re-move, dig?

- G Clinton
posted by JulianDay at 8:51 AM on November 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

I am very prone to feeling similarly. This is what I do, it may sound simplistic but it works for me:
I try to do something everyday, no matter how small, that I haven’t done in the last three days. Like leaving my apartment and walking till I find someplace I haven’t been before; or buying something at the grocery that I can’t pronounce; or I’ll check out an armful of books in a subject I’ve never studied; Or I'll paint something, and I'm no kind of painter.

It can be anything.
posted by French Fry at 9:01 AM on November 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Learn to surf.

Barring that, get involved in some other outdoorsy-exercisey type hobby, like hiking or triathalons. Getting plenty of exercise (as you say you do) is one thing, and is itself a great way to stay sharp and happy, but getting exercise in a way that connects you with a community or an ideology or a natural setting is exponentially more rewarding.
posted by saladin at 9:02 AM on November 2, 2006

What are your secrets for preserving joy in your life?

Well, my answer is clear already. But just to hammer the point home: days seem to be consumed with exercise, work, chores, and a bit of relaxation in front of the TV bc I'm exhausted.

Yeah. You need a hobby.

You know that saying about bored people being boring people? In my experience, boring people almost never have hobbies, and people with hobbies are almost never boring. Hobbies are important. Hell, even if it's something really, really stupid like playing World of Warcraft — those people have something to look forward to, something to get excited about. There ought to be something other than work and family which, when you talk about it, your eyes light up.
posted by cribcage at 9:03 AM on November 2, 2006

Find out what charges your batteries. For me, it's quiet time alone, time spent traveling, time spent in nature, whether hiking in the woods or walking on the beach. Figure out what it is for you. And then make it a non-negotiable priority. You simply have to charge your batteries, just like you have to eat, sleep and breathe.
posted by browse at 9:06 AM on November 2, 2006

Therapy - if you can afford the time and the money might be a very significant investment you make in yourself. The main benefit of therapy for someone who does not have huge emotional problems it that it is a way of getting to know yourself, research your inner self, study your psychic. Therapy does not have to take ages, one year of visiting a therapist once a week for an hour made huge change to my relationships with myself. By therapy I don't mean psychoanalysis of any sort, but psycho therapy from the humanistic school.
posted by slimeline at 9:11 AM on November 2, 2006

Spend time focusing on the now, the present moment. That sounds like some sort of spiritual-mumbo-jumbo answer, but it's not meant to be. For me, this often takes the form of playing with my dogs.

The thing is, do things that are simply pleasing and make you happy and, yes, joyful, every day. It doesn't just happen -- it requires an active choice to embrace the now and embrace what is good.
posted by Robert Angelo at 9:17 AM on November 2, 2006

Whenever i get to feeling gray like you describe, I force myself to push my boundaries. What's the thing you'd be least likely to do right now? The thing that sounds most embarrassing, or scariest, or just really out of character? Would it be performing at an open mic? Skydiving? Camping? Spending a full day completely by yourself in silence? Volunteering? Talking to strangers on the bus?

When I'm brainstorming these things, typically a minute or two will go by before I think of something that immediately inspires my brain to go, "Oh no, pretend you didn't think that! You REALLY don't want to do that!" This is my big clue that I've found the appropriate activity. (The other day it was sharing a poem I had just written with a friend who is a much, much better writer than I am. I was terrified.) 99% of the time it turns out to be fun, and 100% of the time I learn something new about the world and about myself.

Stretching is always refreshing, whether it's for your muscles or your soul.

(And trust me, if this doesn't sound like the kind of thing you'd do, it's perfect. That's how I got started.)
posted by vytae at 9:22 AM on November 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh, and for a solution that takes less brainpower: Spend half an hour at the dog park, whether or not you've got a dog. This is a foolproof way to remember what real joy is.
posted by vytae at 9:29 AM on November 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Along the lines with what cribcage said, I was feeling much the same way until I found a hobby that I am very passionate about - photography.

I'm in my mid-20s, and like you, I felt like every day was consumed with the usual work, eat, chores, sleep routine, with occasional fun activities on weekends. I recently discovered my love for photography though, and it's put a new pep in my step. Not only do I enjoy taking pictures, but I find it causes me to look at my world in a whole new way. I'm constantly admiring the scenery that I was passing without a glance before, and noticing the finer details in life for the great photos they would make. Constantly surveying my surroundings for photo possibilities has caused me to slow down and smell the roses, as they say. And as a bonus, I've made new friends with others who share the same passion.

So, find something you can be passionate about.
posted by geeky at 9:32 AM on November 2, 2006

Break the routine - it's easy to get stuck in a daily pattern of breakfast, commute, work, dinner, tv, bed, etc.. Think about the stuff you do over and over and challenge your normal pattern. Besides all of the above suggestions, do some small things- take a bath instead of a shower, find a new way to get to work, send a postcard instead of an email, go out to dinner or dancing or a bar in the middle of the week, etc.
posted by Staggering Jack at 9:40 AM on November 2, 2006

Have something in your life that is yours and yours alone. Something you don't share with your spouse, or your family, or maybe even your friends. I get up at 5:30 am every morning so that I can have time to write before I go to work. It is my time, and it is sacred. And some days, it's the only thing that keeps me sane.
posted by theinsectsarewaiting at 9:58 AM on November 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Yeah, personal experience, routine makes life gray and fast-moving, no matter how nice the routine. Now, sometimes gray is better, but the less routine you have, the more ups and downs you'll have and the more vibrant life will be.
posted by furiousthought at 10:14 AM on November 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've always had problems with the "find something your passionate about" thing. I'm not sure how you really go about this other than the usual stumbling around.
posted by josher71 at 10:15 AM on November 2, 2006

Sheesh. "You're".
posted by josher71 at 10:19 AM on November 2, 2006

Obedience and gratitude to God and trying to look beyond myself.
posted by dropkick at 11:04 AM on November 2, 2006

Read your local paper every day, and form opinions about the things that city council and county commission are doing in your community. Write letters, attend meetings. Becoming invested in the future of the place where you live can add depth and feelings of investment to your life.

At least once every three months, do something wild -- even if you don't feel like it, make yourself. You can get ideas for wild things to do from your daily paper, the alternative weekly paper , and communities on livejournal or myspace or whatever networking sight floats your boat.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:11 AM on November 2, 2006

...exercise, work, chores, and a bit of relaxation

What do you do for fun? Do you do anything specifically for that? Picnics and galleries and kicking up autumn leaves, window shopping, and concerts, hanggliding and growing herbs?

It seems to me that one of your passions was/is travel. Can you take mini-trips on your weekends?
posted by b33j at 11:31 AM on November 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

These are all good suggestions. I am wondering, though, did you maybe become a "grownup" too fast? Phrases like "when we were younger" and "the best years of our lives" sound odd coming from someone who is only in their late twenties. How are you going to feel in a few decades? It's very admirable that you have a great job and domestic situation, but your schedule sounds like that of someone twenty years older. Have some irresponsible fun!
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 11:39 AM on November 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Do something sweet for your boyfriend or for yourself every day. That will help you remember how to have fun.

For me, this is sometimes lighting a pretty candle or putting girly lotion on, going out for ice cream or froyo with a coworker in the afternoon, feeding the ducks at sunset, picking berries, writing love notes, coloring, crosswords.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:45 AM on November 2, 2006

Break your routine. Even if it consists of relatively enjoyable things, it's still... routine. Some things I have done in the past:

1. Take frequent trips. Rather than squeezing in a holiday once a year, take a day off here and there to give yourself a long weekend or a four day weekend. You don't have to go anywhere far away or exotic, or expensive. Just go somewhere you haven't been and explore. (I know you're a lawyer and all, but if you can't find the time to do this kind of thing with your job, maybe it's part of the problem...)

2. Decide to "live" in a different neighbourhood of your city for the weekend. You can do all your same errands/shopping if you want - the idea here is to explore the neighbourhood (on foot, ideally) through the eyes of a local. Read your morning paper at a cafe there, go for dinner, see some local theatre/band/whatever.

3. Get rid of your TV. I thought this would be hard, but I moved to a new place and just never bothered to get a new TV. It is easy to make TV the default entertainment when you come home tired, but you forget how energizing it can be once you actually get started doing something else. Even reading (doesn't have to be anything heavy) can restart the brain, whereas just settling down in front of the tube starts the slow inevitable descent to bedtime.

Also, I second croutonsupafreak's suggestion, and if I were a better person, I would actually try it myself.

Finally, I don't know what stage you are at in your relationship with your boyfriend, but many people your age "solve" this "problem" by having kids. I'm not recommending becoming a parent just to escape your daily routine, but it is the way many people inject new meaning into their lives when they are at just this stage.
posted by Urban Hermit at 11:50 AM on November 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Spend half an hour at the dog park, whether or not you've got a dog. This is a foolproof way to remember what real joy is.

I second this suggestion but with a twist: Volunteer to walk the dogs from your local SPCA/shelter. I started doing this last winter when I was feeling the effects of SAD & it put a sunshiney glow on my entire life.
posted by zarah at 12:20 PM on November 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Walk to work--it's good exercise, of course, and it keeps you out of traffic. But you'll also find it gives you a real sense of connectedness to those around you.
Just to reinforce this:
On a brief walk to pick up groceries on Tuesday, I stumbled up a hill of the most beautiful ants. They were as big as army ants, but there final rear segment was a shimmering brown. They glowed like topazes. I'd been ticked that i didn't have the car, but was so glad after seeing those ants, as I would never have seen them from a vehicle.
Also, when was the last time you danced? Not the cool dancing you do at a club, but spastically to a song you've always loved? That's one of the things that little kids are good for. Offer to to babysit for someone and then share with them the joy of spaz dancing.
posted by Sara Anne at 12:49 PM on November 2, 2006

Have a sense of humor about yourself. If something seems like fun, don't worry about whether or not it's dignified. Don't be afraid to like things that everyone else thinks are stupid.
posted by teleskiving at 2:13 PM on November 2, 2006

Response by poster: Have some irresponsible fun! Oh, I do quite frequently. Which is partly why, I think, I'm generally happy. But that's fun, and I'm talking about joy.

Anyway, lots of great suggestions and they've got me thinking. Some of these things I already do, and they probably help, but not completely, so I was looking for more, and maybe something to jolt me out of the humdrum.
posted by Amizu at 2:20 PM on November 2, 2006

What's wrong with not experiencing joy once in a while? Would you wear a purple suit every day? Run the gamut, feel it all, and you'll get more out of everything.
posted by DenOfSizer at 2:30 PM on November 2, 2006

Prozac. Seriously. Your issue is chemical.
posted by zaebiz at 2:49 PM on November 2, 2006

Ride your bicycle.
posted by fixedgear at 2:57 PM on November 2, 2006

I'll go ahead and second the photography suggestion. When I started almost ten years ago, it touched every aspect of my life...I got out more, started exploring both my little local world and the city I live in. It's completely changed the way I look at everything. Plus it influenced me to change my career, which is now so busy that I no longer have much time to shoot. *blush*
posted by nevercalm at 3:15 PM on November 2, 2006

dropkick, croutonsupafreak and everyone else who suggested a hobby stole my answers. Looking beyond yourself is very, very important and a good way to find joy and meaning. I know that as a young associate (or even partner) in a law firm, work can become too important, and law firms love it when their lawyers get involved in the community somehow -- it can on occasion provide good publicity for the firm while helping to keep you from burning out.

And yes, photography is a great way to expand your horizons.

I really think that, if you're in the right domestic situation, having children is the ultimate way to have something beyond yourself in your life. There are obviously a lot of potential downsides, but the potential upsides are immense. I was quite put off by the idea of children until birth control failed over 17 years ago and my life changed forever. Having a child should not be about you, not something you do just for yourself, of course. But what you're feeling might just be your biological clock ticking. Maybe the time isn't right for it yet, but it's something to think about, at least.
posted by lhauser at 4:57 PM on November 2, 2006

Start a garden and grow some of your own food. We here in America can get so insulated from real life that we lose the zest for life. Herbs, carrots, lettuce and tomatoes are all easy if you have a sunny place.
posted by kc0dxh at 1:34 PM on November 3, 2006

A Quiet Mind sure works for me.
posted by JPowers at 10:05 PM on November 7, 2006

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