Down. Stuck in a rut. Glum. Uninspired. Melancholy.
Hey, at least it’s not depression, right?

-I mean absolutely no offense to the actual depressed folks out there. Depression must be miserable. I feel for those folks. I’m aware of how debilitating it is and even how life-threatening it can be, and I’m sorry that anyone has to live with such a terrible disease. Fortunately, my issues aren’t so deep and rarely go beyond being uninterested, bored, and just generically sad. For me, it comes and goes in cycles for the most part. I’ll find something I’m interested in, get real into it and learn everything I can about it, consume it from as many different angles as possible, and use it up until I’m utterly bored of it. But it’s not the ‘things’ fault. It’s not that I’m bored with the ‘thing,’ it’s more like I’ve used up all of my ‘interest.’ It’s as if ‘interest’ is a finite thing that you can run out of and must wait for to replenish.

Take World War II for example. I am fascinated by WWII. Everything from the tactics and weapons used, to the motivations behind peoples’ actions, generals and infantry alike. But beyond basic stats and numbers, what captivates me most is the culture of the time and place, the anecdotes people have, and just the mindset of the entire World at the time. There’s never been anything like it since. So, when I get on my (bi)annual ‘WWII kick,’ I watch documentaries, read books both fiction and non-fiction, listen to the music of the time period, watch movies, listen to podcasts, and even play a multitude of video games which completely takes over my mindset. It almost puts me in another place altogether.

But sometimes I’ll get on a kick that isn’t that deep and engrossing. Sometimes it’s just a simple song. I may happen upon a song that just catches me at the right moment that will fill that void. Sometimes it’s a book or short story. I may come across a great story that will leave me thinking about it all day or a book that will consume some brain cycles for a few weeks. It’s not unlike swimming in an underwater cave, finding air pockets and consuming them to sustain you just long enough for you to find the next air pocket.

Something will trigger it… and it’s always different. And I can’t make it happen. But something will trigger it and a chain reaction will start. I’ll become interested and engaged in something, and I’ll be more aware which will spill over to other things which I wouldn’t normally be interested in and then boom… I’m happy and involved again. I don’t get it and I wish that I could control it but to this day, I haven’t found a way to reach critical mass and force the reaction to happen. It just has to happen on its own.

I really find enjoyment in writing and love when I can get my thoughts down on paper. My problem with writing is that I’m not very good at it and it takes a lot of work for me to get anything coherent, let alone worth reading. I have no less than four ideas right now I’ve started and have been wanting to work out and get written but just can’t find the motivation to do so. It’s not a mid-life crisis as much as it is day-to-day doldrums. I’m not sad necessarily, but I’m not happy or interested. I just can’t seem to get excited. And that’s what is so frustrating. It is such a magnificent world – universe – out there teeming with practically infinite things to explore, learn, and discover, that it’s frustrating when I can’t even be trivially entertained.

The unnerving part to me though is that these cycles, these highs and lows, have been getting shorter and shallower. My ‘kicks’ don’t last as long and aren’t as enriching as they used to be. Maybe I’m just getting old and jaded. I don’t mind getting old, but I don’t want to be jaded. I don’t want to feel that way and I don’t know how to stop it. Remember being a kid and laughing at something so hard (that you’d probably think is stupid today) that you couldn’t physically breathe? There was no better feeling in the world! And I cannot tell you the last time that has happened to me. I could count on one hand how many times that has happened to me in the last ten years – no exaggeration. Why is that? Is that just the way things are? Is that what happens when you get older? And if not, how do I change that?

Maybe since I’m continuing to revisit the same things over and over again, I simply need to find something completely new to become infatuated with. Problem is, I like what I like, you know? If there’s something out there that would interest me you’d think I would have found it by now. Maybe I just need to look harder. Or maybe that’s just the way things are. Maybe we we’re supposed to live day to day, moment by moment.

Maybe it’s a matter of concentration. I often have problems concentrating on things even when engaged with things I enjoy. It’s tough to stay focused and I know that has to have at least a small impact on my issue. I would love, just as an experiment, to try something like Adderall. I would love to see if being able to concentrate would make a difference one way or another. At least I would know and could determine how big of a contributing factor it is to help remedy the situation, or not. My memory is notoriously bad. Concentration has a huge impact on memory so I know it must make some difference there for sure. Sleeping better, eating healthy, and consistently being active has helped my memory and overall happiness, but it has seemed to reach a limit. I’m a huge supporter of modern medicine but also believe that medication should only be taken when absolutely needed – not because someone ‘wants’ it for some arbitrary reason. I’m stuck with a bit of a conundrum with this one.

I guess I just don’t have the answers right now and just need to take things ‘one step at a time,’ just like my dad would say. I hope I find that next air pocket soon… I’m starting to turn blue down here.

3 Comments Comment

  • Bee on 2014-10-22

    Oh, Jeffrey, there are so many things you write about that I can relate to. Even though I have 1,000 things to do each day, I found myself saying the other day, ‘I’m bored.’ I think I’ve used our business as a way to keep busy because when I’m not busy, then I think too much and like you, I feel a little melancholy or sad or wonder why I haven’t done more with my life since it seems to be zipping by.

    I do think that as we get older we’ve been exposed to so much that we do become, for lack of a better word, jaded, or cynical. We’ve ‘been there, done that’ already. Maybe it’s our society these days that makes us want to be entertained all the time. I don’t just want to read a book, I want to read a good book. Once I find an author I like or a main character I like, I find all the books written by that author and read them all, in order, until I’ve used them all up, only wishing I hadn’t gobbled them up so quickly, because, now what? I have to find a new author, or a new hobby, or something else to keep me interested.

    It’s true that we like what we like. I’ve read so much about gardening and herbs that I can’t read a gardening magazine for fun anymore because I already know all that or I’ve read it before, or I’ve done it that way already. I don’t mean to sound like a know it all because there is no way I could ever know everything there is to know about gardening but I know all about the parts I like. Just like you and WWII or astronomy or building observatories, whatever your interests are. You know everything about the parts you like.

    Again, I don’t want to sound like a snob or elitist, but I think intelligence and type A personality have a lot to do with being bored or not being able to let loose enough to laugh til it hurts. Although I enjoy a good daydream every once in a while, I feel like I can’t waste my time on a sitcom or playing a mindless game like candy crush (well…not constantly anyway), or just going to the park to enjoy the leaves. There has to be a reason and laughing at something silly or just ‘being’ isn’t reason enough.

    Or maybe it’s being competitive that is the culprit. I can’t enjoy something unless there’s a goal involved…working out to lose 10 pounds, reading all about websites in order to improve my own, taking a walk with the dog too so we both get exercise (multitasking). Look at all the CEOs out there or scientists or inventors…they probably got to where they are because, if they didn’t keep at it, they would be bored.

    Concentrating is hard when you’ve got a lot going on in your brain. I’d rather have a complicated brain, that likes to be stimulated constantly than a simple brain that can do something over and over again without being bored. I know this is going to sound harsh but I remember thinking Dodo lead such a boring life, but you know, she was happy and content in her simple life. I don’t think you and I are content with simple. Yes, enjoying a slow day with just your thoughts for company is great every once in a while but I’d rather be bored every now and then rather than lead a boring life every day.

    I don’t know…for what it’s worth, that’s my two cents this time. Thanks for always openly sharing your thoughts.

  • Jeffrey on 2014-10-23

    I’m flattered that you read this stuff. But more than that, it makes me happy to know you care at least enough to reply, but also because there are others out there that feel the same way. I don’t socialize a lot – I’ve kinda fallen into my own little world – and often wonder how other people live their lives and feel about things. (I should probably get out more, ha!) So it’s real nice to hear back from you (a family member no less!) and know you feel similar.

    You’re right though, there are many different types of people in this world including those who can play Candy Crush all day and be content, and those who need a little more stimulation. I guess unfortunately, we fall into the latter category. ‘Ignorance is bliss’ is a popular saying for a reason! And I don’t mean that to be derogatory, I mean it in the sense that learning can be very fulfilling, rewarding, and exciting and like you said, we’ve gotten very familiar with the things we like to the point that we’ve become jaded. Being ignorant of certain things, then learning everything we can about them until we fall in love was such a great experience. I mean, that’s what we live for, right?!

    As other popular sayings go: ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ and ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder.’ Again, they’re popular for a reason… because there’s truth in them! When we spend too much time with something, even if it’s something we love, we become bored. But when we consume these passions in moderation, visiting them fleetingly, we can keep our passions in mint condition and return to them without them being ruined. That’s one of my justifications for not pursuing astronomy as a profession; I love it so much that I’d rather keep it as a hobby consuming it on my own will, versus being forced to do it as my job. Of course, there are other reasons why (REAL astronomy is HARD!) so I’m using that excuse as a bit of a scapegoat, but it’s true nonetheless. I know there are people whose passion is their profession and are very happy, but I also know others who aren’t happy and wish for something more. Is your business your passion? Are you glad you chose it as your profession? What are your hobbies and are they fulfilling?

    A lot of times I’ll find myself doing things because I know they *should* make me happy or I *should* be finding enjoyment from them, but for whatever reason, I cannot get into them at the time. So on top of not having anything to get excited about or interested in, I think there may be something wrong with me because these things used to bring me happiness, and now they don’t, which just compounds the problem. I’ve recently picked up on this, so lately I’ve been forcing myself to just do whatever I think is fun or entertaining regardless if it’s something I’ve classically found enjoyment in. You just can’t force these things, you know? You just can’t force happiness.

    Trust me, I wish I could just binge-watch TV shows all weekend and not have any regrets and be fulfilled. But that’s not that hand I was dealt I guess. That’s not to say there’s anything inherently wrong with binge-watching TV shows and that type of stuff. And I’m not going to pretend that I’ve never done anything like that either – I’ve wasted TONS of time for sure. If that’s what brings people happiness, more power to ’em! Because ultimately, happiness is for all intents and purposes, the meaning of life… it’s just how we obtain that happiness that is the question. It could be argued that people who find happiness in seemingly pointless things have it all figured out since they can achieve that goal with minimum effort. Although, we probably wouldn’t have the internet and MRI machines and have traveled to the moon if that was true for everyone.

    And it’s not just mindless TV shows and other “brain-cell-killing” activities… What I’m really talking about are simple activities in general; things that require minimum effort and, let’s just say, minimum cognitive abilities. How many stories have you heard about recluses and monks living extremely fulfilling – yet extremely simple – lives? Folks who have sworn off all modern conveniences and stripped their lives down to the bear minimum and were completely content and happy. I’ve been reading ‘Walden’ by Henry David Thoreau where he retreats to a tiny cabin for a couple years to live a life immersed in nature and devoid of conveniences of the time. I have another book of poems by a Chinese recluse who lived around the ninth century who finds complete peace and happiness living alone in the mountains. There are tons of examples of folks like these. Is there much difference between those who ‘meditate’ in front of a TV or book all day and those who meditate under a tree all day? I’m not so sure there is. Either way, I envy these people.

    Why spend so much time and effort on figuring out how to be happy? Why not just ‘be happy?’ Unfortunately, folks like us can’t just ‘be happy.’ That’s our predicament. And like Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I think people like us need to examine ourselves and evaluate our lives in order to quantify our contributions and achievements in order to justify our lives, and in turn be happy. But doing so requires effort. And sometimes I’m just too tired to think about that type of stuff… especially at the end of a long day where I just want to sit down and relax. I don’t want to work out life’s big mysteries, I just want to sit and be ‘happy.’ Honestly, I think that’s why I drink as much as I do. I know I shouldn’t, but I drink almost every night. Granted, it’s only two or three beers but still it’s almost every night. Because well, I like beer… but also because it’s the catalyst that lets me relax at the end of the day and just let things go.

    All of this makes me sound really depressing and unhappy but I swear that’s not who I am. I highly doubt anyone who talks to me on a regular basis knows any of these things about me. This is just an inner thought process I have running in the background most of the time. And there are times when I CAN let all of this go and just be happy… the problem is that I can’t control when that happens and haven’t narrowed down the contributing factors. The only way I’ve been able to control it is, beyond my daily family and work routine, to occupy my (very limited) free time with little projects and hobbies. Catch 22: I pursue hobbies that make me happy, but can’t do them too often or they won’t make me happy anymore, haha. Maybe it is just because they are ‘hobbies’ that satisfy the short-term, but they lack that overarching long-term fulfillment I desire. (Obviously, my family is number one, and I get so much fulfillment and happiness from them, but as you know, it’s a different kind of fulfillment and happiness.)

    What I’ve found just as rewarding as learning and discovering new things is teaching the things I’ve learned. I swear I would love to be a science teacher one day but since I haven’t pursued an actual teaching career, I’ve had to find other ways to ‘teach.’ That was one of my main motivations behind building this website (and even the observatory). I get to share what I love by sharing what I know. But I also get the added benefit of seeing at least a little bit of that wonder and excitement that I experienced when I learned that thing for the first time. It shows through their faces when they see Saturn through the telescope and through the comments online. I get to live vicariously through them, but also get the satisfaction in knowing that I may have taught or shown something to someone they may not have ever known before. And I’m not so naive or vain to believe my website is anything special or even remotely valuable, but it keeps me busy and I like doing it. So if anyone finds even the slightest bit of enjoyment out of it, it’s all worth it to me.

    I guess we just don’t have the answers. I honestly don’t think there’ll ever be ‘an answer.’ I guess we just need to stay cognizant of the fact that happiness is a state of mind and to keep reminding ourselves of that. Easier said than done, huh? I’ll tell you what though, we need to start talking about something a little less depressing, ha! All this talk about sadness is making me bored of being sad! Maybe this dialog is helping ; )

  • Bee on 2014-10-29

    Let me start by saying, YES, we need to talk about something happier! :) I know it sounds like I’m unhappy too but really, I’m not!! Like you, it’s all just a running commentary in my head.

    Honestly, with owning my own business, it’s hard to have any hobbies or down time. I love to read but I feel like I have to read so much to keep up with the gardening industry that I don’t have time to read for fun, or rather, I can’t justify taking time out to read just for fun. Yes, I’m on Pinterest and Instagram and Facebook but most of that is for my business or ‘researching’ what people find interesting so it’s not always fun.

    I talked to Brian a bit about our conversation about hobbies. He said he just keeps finding new hobbies, usually ones that are vastly different than his last hobby. Basically he learns something new just for the fun of learning something new. I’ve tried to combine the things I like, such as gardening with cooking, and that leads to new topics such as sustainability or urban farming or maybe raising bees. Just variations on a theme. I do find the psychology behind people’s buying habits totally fascinating! (‘Why We Buy’ by Paco Underhill)

    As for drinking every evening, well, we are of German decent you know. :) Seriously, you are not alone, at least in this family. People drink in good times and bad but it’s always been the great equalizer, letting us all relax enough to let go of the day to day grind and welcome in the thoughts we put aside while we have to focus on work. I’ve always liked the Hemingway quote, ‘write drunk, edit sober.’ It’s like he’s saying you have to let go of the normal in the day in order to be creative and write and for most of us that takes a few drinks.

    I do have a little advice…don’t turn your hobby into your career. Although I enjoy being outside and working with plants it has made me not want to garden at home. Usually because I’m too tired!!

    Maybe next time we can cover a more upbeat topic? And, don’t ever apologize for writing too much. I also have that same habit!!

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