10 Ways to Beat the “Can’t Get No Satisfaction” Syndrome

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.

Are you feeling like life isn’t exciting enough? That maybe you’re missing out on something because you just can’t get motivated for anything? Turns out you’re not alone.

Recently, reader Rachel asked:

“In a population of 6 billion+ people globally, it is hard not to feel like another number. I find life so disenchanting the more I pursue things I though were my dreams. I am at possibly the top university in the world getting my masters to make the world a better place… yet I lack the joy and excitement that I should have. If this were just my problem, I would figure this out, but I think so many of us deal with this. We can have so much to be grateful for, and we very well might be grateful…however, when the achievement of a dream fails to make us as satisfied as we thought it would, it calls the very credibility of dreaming into question. I appreciate the process of life, one might say…Nothing seems to be that exciting though… nothing could surprise me anymore. I was wondering if you had any insight on this issue… i.e. what I call the “I can’t get no satisfaction” syndrome.”

What a tough question! How do you get excited about life?

I have to admit that this is not only a common problem, but one of the toughest. I’ve gone through times in my life when nothing seemed exciting. Dreams seemed utterly hopeless and useless. Motivation was a hard currency to come by.

So what changed? What got me excited by life?

There’s no one answer. What follows is a series of things that worked for me, in no particular order … I should note that some of these may sound trite, but they actually do work, for me and for countless others:

1. Make small, positive changes. This is a bit of a paradox. Making small, positive changes — eating a little healthier, exercising a little, creating some small productive habits, for example — are an amazing way to get excited about life … but doesn’t it take some excitement and motivation to even get started with these small changes? Yes, a little … but not a lot. If you start small, you don’t need a lot of motivation. Just get going. You’ll soon find that just the act of getting started and doing something will give you some momentum, and soon you’ll be in a positive spiral of changes — one building on the other. When I started doing this in my life, I was so excited I had to start Zen Habits to share it with the world.

2. Banish negative thinking. Negative thoughts are the bane of an exciting existence. You can’t have all these negative thoughts, and hope to really enjoy life. It’s one or the other — and it’s your choice. Do you want to think negative — I can’t do it, this sucks — or do you want to love life and do amazing things and get excited about everything? It really is a choice. And it takes awareness — be aware of your thoughts and when you catch yourself thinking negative, squash the thought like a bug, and replace it with a positive thought. Seriously, it works. I did this with running and smoking when I first started, and I was able to successfully start running and quit smoking. That was more than three years ago, and I haven’t smoked since and I’ve run three marathons since then. All because I banished negative thoughts.

3. Look at the wonderful side of things. This is kinda the flip side of No. 2 above, but I don’t care — it’s so important I need to give it its own list item. Yes, that’s right — it matters that much: everything around you has a wonderful side, and you just need to look at that to realize how lucky you are. Seriously. My internet went down? That’s a wonderful thing: I was more productive than ever before, plus I spent more time with my kids rather than surfing the web. My daughter is throwing a tantrum because she wants a toy her brother is playing with? It’s a wonderful opportunity for me to teach her about sharing, to invent some fun new activity we can do together, to spend some time with my kids. My grandfather died? It’s a wonderful chance for me to celebrate the great life he led, the influence he had on me and those around me, to learn more about him, to spend time with friends and family, to reflect on the preciousness of life.

4. Exercise. Not everyone is a fan of exercise, but I can tell you firsthand that it can work miracles. While many people do it to improve their appearance, there’s so much more to exercise — it can be incredibly fun while you’re doing it (if you do it right), you feel healthy and energetic, you can get a fresh insight into your life and life in general. When I exercise, I feel so much better than those days when I don’t. It gives me new ideas, time to contemplate, time to spend with my sister (who is my friend and running partner). Start with just 10 minutes a day and you’ll see how much it can energize your life.

5. Appreciate loved ones. It’s not a secret that I’m a big fan of spending time with my family. It’s my No. 1 favorite pastime. And for good reason: when I do so, I love life so much more. Even just laying on the couch reading together, or renting a movie and eating take-out food, or walking along the beach together, or cracking jokes with each other — it really makes life so much better. Take the time to appreciate your loved ones, and if you haven’t spent time with them lately, do so today if you can! At the very least, give your loved ones a call or send a nice email.

6. Pursue a passion. This was a life-changer for me. For many years, I was too afraid or too pessimistic to pursue my passion (writing) seriously. In January 2007, I started Zen Habits as a way to pursue that passion, and it was one of the best decisions of my life (my wife and children being the others). Even if I didn’t make money from blogging, I’d love it and it would be worth doing just for the energy it infuses into my life. Whatever your passion, pursue it with energy. If you don’t know what that passion is, you need to start exploring and trying new things — it could take awhile, but it’s worth the effort.

7. Talk and work with other excited people. Boy, this is really a great one. I wish someone had told me about this a decade ago. I’ve worked with competent people before, but looking back on it, often they were jaded or cynical or negative in some way. And these negative, bored people would have an effect on my attitude. But the times when I’ve worked with people who are excited about what they do … well, I’d get excited too. Even today, when I basically work alone, I collaborate with other great bloggers, with others on some cool projects … and I seek out people who get excited about what they do. It’s fun to work with them, and it makes things much more exciting.

8. Take time to recharge. Sometimes you just feel drained, and you can’t get excited about anything. This is a good time to take a break if you can, to get out of your usual setting and your usual routine. You don’t have to go to the Caribbean or Guam (although if you can, that’s great) … just get out into nature, reflect on life, realize how wonderful it is, do some journaling or sketching, create, have fun, relax, do nothing. When you’re done, you’ll feel much better about everything, and come at things with a fresh perspective.

9. Get great feedback. One of the things I love about blogging here at Zen Habits is the amazing feedback and encouragement I get from my readers. It has made blogging a joy, and the feedback I get has helped me to improve every step of the way. I get excited about what I do because I love the feedback — both the praise and the constructive criticism. I don’t love the hateful comments, but those are rare. While not everyone will become a blogger, it’s great if you can get some great feedback from people — coworkers, peers, friends and family, clients and customers. The more, the better. When you get negative feedback, use it to get better. When you get praise, bask in it and be grateful.

10. Help others. I don’t pretend that I’m the world’s greatest philanthropist, but often I get emails and comments from people who have improved their lives from what I’ve done. And the feeling I get from comments like this is unbelievable. I am incredibly grateful to be able to help others, even in a small way, and I highly recommend it to everyone. Even if your main job isn’t dedicated to helping others, find spare time to do volunteer charity work or find ways to do nice things to help your loved ones. It’ll make life so much better.

Read more about simplifying in my book, The Power of Less.