When the existential feelings get heavy: how to feel happier every day

What’s the point of all of it? Get up, go to work, walk the dog, have dinner, watch a little TV, go to sleep to do it all again in the morning. Do you ever feel that way?

Every so often (I think usually when I’m not feeling challenged enough), I start to feel the heaviness of existential questions weigh on me. I recognize that I am in a privileged place (I have a better paying job than the average U.S. salary, can share expenses with someone, live in a mortgaged home that is not affected by the insane volatility that the rental market is currently under, etc.) As far as money goes – I’m doing better than most, but I suppose this means I have risen to the next level of needs above survival/safety.

Most of my current goals are long game goals:

  • dividend investing to replace active income
  • saving to buy a hybrid car in cash
  • build an established/profitable Etsy shop

Making more money is a common goal for many people that can feel exciting when you don’t make enough.. but only until you do. Making passive money then becomes the new shiny thing and is exciting when you’re only making active money, until you add passive money income to the streams. It’s all exciting when it’s new, but eventually it’s not new anymore and you’re back to chasing the next thing.

All of the goals I’m working towards were exciting to me when I set them (and are still worthy of pursuing) but sometimes the progress feels slow and I find my motivation waning. I fall back on discipline when motivation swings back and forth, but really I think the missing element here is excitement. What is life, if not exciting? Nothing but a mere existence, no?

So how do we find excitement in our day-to-day lives and feel happier every day?

Ways to find excitement in life

  • variety – try new things (new places to visit, new foods to eat, new people to talk to)
  • challenge – our brains are wired for certainty and safety and that feels good until you realize that you’re not growing or stretching. We need challenges to make us strive for more than we what we currently are (Tony Robbins says if you’re not growing, you’re dying)
  • connection – having people that get it. This isn’t always in the form of one friend or one group. Often, it is a variety of groups or friends who you connect with on different topics/hobbies. The point is that you feel connected to others in significant ways, because we are social beings that crave it.
  • contribution – find ways to give without expectation. No matter where you find yourself in life, there will always be others on the step (or many steps) below you. Look around and you’ll see it everywhere. This could be the new coworker who is struggling, the person standing on the corner of the intersection with a homeless sign, or the animal shelter in town begging for volunteers. You can give money, things, or time.
  • fun – some things just make you feel alive. We’re all drawn to different things and you have to experiment to find those activities that make you feel that “this is what life’s about” feeling. I feel this feeling usually when I’m in a new place, doing something with a healthy dose of adrenaline, or genuinely laughing with a group of people.

Another component, I like to keep in mind are the four types of happiness chemicals that our brains release: dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins, and serotonin. Most of us know that we tend to feel better after working out (endorphins), and it’s easy to get a shot of dopamine from eating our favorite foods or even from watching instagram stories/tik toks [which is why that has blown up], but there are two other chemicals that help balance and contribute to an overall feeling of wellbeing. My theory is to try and keep a balanced release of all four chemicals.

After we realize we need some excitement to mix up the day to day, it’s also important to understand that besides excitement – you also need some contrast. Have you ever noticed that when you do the same thing over and over, no matter how delightful it is, at some point it starts to lose its delightfulness and start to feel a little ordinary?

Consider this: in order to appreciate fun, you must also work. In order to appreciate freedom, you must sometimes have a schedule.

When I get lost in the feeling of being unable to control my time, I remember that the weekends and vacation time only feel so freeing because I am used to spending most of my time working. If I spent most of my time weekend-ing and vacationing, would I value the work time more? Surprisingly, I think the answer here is yes. Of course, if you absolutely loathe your job, perhaps your yes is not as certain as mine. But, perhaps you’ve noticed a fainter yes in the form of not absolutely dreading the first day back to work after vacation because a return to routine feels good and reminds you why you love vacation.

It’s an interesting perspective to balance the scales. Beyond this need for a little contrast and excitement, the last piece is feeling like a contributor. Does your day to day make you feel like you are contributing to something? Are you making a difference in the world, in your community, in your family, or even to just one person?

When I start to feel grumbly and mutter “just another day, just another dollar” day in and day out, I have realized that these feelings are usually trying to tell me that I am missing that contribution feeling. We all need to feel like we are part of something bigger and like what we do matters. If you are feeling the blahs even though you have more than enough to be grateful for, I encourage you to try this trick. Go out of your way to do something nice for someone else.

It doesn’t have to be captured on social media and it doesn’t have to be something big. It could be something as simple as wishing people a nice day through your email correspondence at work, holding the door for someone at the store, or offering to pick up a friend for dinner rather than meet them at the restaurant. One act of kindness each day is a simple way to cultivate a habit that will make you feel more connected to others, to yourself, and help you feel like you are contributing to something bigger than yourself.

I hope some of this resonates and that a little more balance in life brings you a greater sense of happiness and enjoyment and ultimately leads you to feeling happier every day.

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4 thoughts on “When the existential feelings get heavy: how to feel happier every day

  1. You are spot on with this article, especially the quote “in order to appreciate fun, you must also work. In order to appreciate freedom, you must sometimes have a schedule.”

    Um yes. I have found this to be completely true. If you laze about all day, every day, there is no enjoyment from it. You must find balance between being productive and working hard mentally, to having fun and blowing off steam. It is all about balance!

    1. Thank you, Accidentally Retired. I think we all start off thinking eradicating the things we don’t want to do/deal with is the answer — but it turns out we need that stuff so that we can appreciate the rest. This is why I don’t think I’ll ever fully stop working — the best way to enjoy the free time is to have a little work too. But I hope the work becomes something I can choose at some point. 🙂

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