Sometimes it feels as if life is against you. Nothing works as it should. The people around you seem distant, preoccupied, and indifferent to you and your interests. There are constant hassles and upsets. Whatever enthusiasm you once had has burned to gray, barely-flickering embers. You have little energy and feel like giving up.

Many people feel this way. You can’t rightly call it depression or burnout. It’s not that dramatic. It’s more like feeling gray and dull all the time. There’s no spark. No sense of excitement or joy in life.

I suspect that the commonest response is to try to ignore the feeling and hope that it will pass; to tell yourself you’ve maybe picked up a virus somewhere. To imagine that you just need a few less stressful days or a brief vacation and you’ll be fine.

Yet feelings like the ones I’ve described should not be ignored. They may not be spectacular, but they’re your mind telling you that you’re life is out of balance. If you’ve lost the excitement and pleasure in how you live, nothing will be better until you get them back. If you’re starving yourself of what you need to be happy and healthy—or living on a monotonous diet of hard work and stress—it’s only a matter of time before something more serious goes wrong: a bad illness, a breakdown, or the collapse of a cherished relationship.

Every flame needs fuel, and your flame of creativity and joy is no exception. Thanks to the Puritan Work Ethic, many people are obsessed with working and studiously avoid allowing themselves sufficient time for pleasure. They’re too busy toiling and striving to lighten up and enjoy their world. Fun isn’t bad for you. Doing something for no other reason that because it feels good won’t undermine your moral fiber. Imagine trying to live by eating nothing but broccoli at every meal. However good it may be, a diet of nothing else would kill you. Every human being needs variety in their life as much as in their diet. Have a little fun. Go wild, once in a while. Goof off. Try something new. You won’t be struck down by a thunderbolt from heaven for that.

Here are some simple and practical ways to breath fresh life into your inner fires:

  • Take time out to refocus. Think about what used to bring you energy and pleasure. What happened to it? How can you bring it back? Many people lose focus on what truly matters to them, because they’re wrapped up in what seems more pressing—like working to get ahead. Your career may be important to you, but it’s going to harm you spiritually, mentally, and emotionally—and maybe even physically—if you allow it to take over your life entirely. Let yourself go a little. You need more than a great career. You need enough of what truly makes your life worth living, however frivolous and financially impractical that turns out to be.
  • Learn to relax and let go. We all like to feel in control of events; to have stability and predictability in our lives. Give it up. It’s an illusion. Worse, it’s a dangerous one, because it encourages you to exhaust yourself trying to make things happen exactly as you want. You cannot do it, however hard you try. You are not in control. Accept it with a smile.
  • Reconnect with others. People who feel miserable and frustrated often isolate themselves. They think that they don’t want company, or that other people won’t want to be with them. Being alone with your problems is a poor idea. I’m not encouraging you to rush out and start unloading your wretchedness on others. That will isolate you, and extremely quickly. Just make sure you spend enough time in company, devoting your attention to someone other than yourself.
  • Try helping others who may feel like you. Teaching is the best way to learn; helping others is very often the best way to help yourself. Let your personal issues take a back seat for a while while focus on helping others. You’ll likely find when you return to your own problems that they’ve melted away.
  • Find a way to renew a sense of purpose. Actions—however successful—that feel meaningless will never be satisfying. It’s most likely that your sense of continual boredom and emptiness comes from suspecting that nothing you do has much real value in the long-term. The answer is to work through these questions:
    • Why did I go into the work I’m doing today?
    • What did I expect to find? Did I find it?
    • Are my expectations for my working life still realistic? What do I need to change?
    • What needs do I want to meet through my work and career? What is the next most obvious step to move towards them?
    • What can I do to make my life better? Why aren’t I doing it?

Above all, take action. Thinking about your problems makes them seem greater and more pressing. It also does nothing to change the situation. Only action can do that. Until you act, everything will remain as it is. Almost any action is better than none at all, for every action produces some result that you can use to learn what to do next. There are no failures, save the failure to do anything at all.

If you build a fire, then merely sit and watch it, it will burn out. You need to feed it with fresh sticks and rake away the ash. Life’s like that too.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

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