Boomer Blahs

I’m beginning to appreciate the subtle shifts that can happen when we retire and don’t have all the props and externals sources of stimulation to motivate us, provoke our actions, and give us feedback on what and how we are doing. These days, quite a few people I know are either retiring or thinking about it. A few seem genuinely excited at the prospect, a couple are a bit tentative and worried about how they will fare, and a number seem matter-of-fact about it (they’re kind of just doing the next thing—moving into retirement without much serious thought or enthusiasm).

There seems to be a mood in the air that has a lot of people be either tentative or numb about the future. I don’t know if it’s ‘overload’ from the rate of change and seeming intractable complexity that confronts us daily or whether it’s some sort of resignation that our world and for many, our lives, seem ‘out-of-control’. I think it may be the latter.

This mood creeps into my life occasionally in the form of ‘the blahs’: I seem to lose interest in just about everything during these times. I can’t ‘get up’ for travel, new projects or social events and I find no gratification in making a ‘power purchase’ like a new tech toy or something special for my wardrobe. This mood, which isn’t particularly negative, doesn’t feel like depression. It’s just that I’m not interested in doing anything particular—I just want to stare at the view or maybe take a walk by myself or fill time with one of my low-octane addictions like computer games, watching TV, or re-reading my closet full of paperback action-thrillers.

On closer examination, I think this mood is connected to my reluctance to take on new commitments. I don’t think it’s a function of age, but I do think as we get older, we get more and more discriminating about what we commit to. A lot of what has gotten us ‘up’ in the past is simply not worth it. Or it’s a ‘so what’ or it just isn’t all that important or interesting. What I’m seeing in myself is that it’s becoming increasingly necessary to generate my own enthusiasm as distinct from having my enthusiasm be a function of my circumstances or what I am doing.

This ‘deer in the headlights’ phenomenon has us paralyzed, unaware that our reluctance to commit underscores our mood. The solution in my experience has been to consciously accept responsibility for my moods and—regardless of how I feel—to recommit to existing commitments or create new ones to whatever is missing or needs attention in the moment. This propels me into action and—before I know it—‘the blahs’ have disappeared. The mood offers me an opportunity to call on my capacity to generate ‘who I am’ in the moment. Although I may not have control over whether and when ‘the blahs’ happen, I definitely have a choice about how long they last.

Fortunately, even if I don’t take responsibility and make new commitments, ‘the blahs’, like most moods, do eventually pass. And when they do, I wake up recharged, re-inspired with the possibility of life, and grateful to be alive in these most interesting times. Perhaps ‘the blahs’ serve a useful purpose after all: they show us the contrast between living life inside a circumstantial and experiential drift and living life in the context of our commitments.