I Can’t Enjoy Anything

Question:

I get no kick out of anything. Is this part of my depression? I know it’s a drag on my family, but how can I be expected to do things if there’s no satisfaction in it?

 

Answer:

 

 

The inability to enjoy things normally enjoyed is such a tough aspect of depression. The catch-22 is that doing enjoyable things is an important aspect of getting better. Some might be interested to know the jargon name for the symptom, anhedonia (an, meaning of course “without” and hedone is Greek for pleasure, as in hedonism). The general advice is to treat it like physical conditioning or any skill – practice. Do more fun things, and try to find the fun in it.
Let’s say you push yourself to take a walk. Without meaning to, you might go into it with hands clenched, head down, cursing under your breath and treating it like a forced march. You’ve done your walk, and gotten little pleasure. Or, you can keep your eyes up, look at interesting things, feel the air, hear the sounds, appreciate the rhythm in your stride and taking care not to use the time to stew about something you cannot control. Then, you’ve had your walk made a diminished your anhedonia at the same time. The way in which you participate makes a difference.

Another key in reducing anhedonia is taking care to make the right mental connections. When depressed, we automatically assume getting out (or getting up, or talking to a friend or whatever form the pleasant activation takes) equals discomfort. It may in fact cause some discomfort in the short term which is what makes us feel so certain it’s not worth it. But you have to connect with the longer term result: after completing the walk there is more comfort, not less.

During and after the activity, remember that depression dampens your perception of the experience. This means that you do not want to take your initial assessment of the experience at face value. Look hard for everything positive you can get from it. An initial thought, “that movie was awfully flat, and getting there was exhausting” might translate to “I see I haven’t lost my knack for panning a bad movie, not that was 100% percent bad, and getting there was an achievement.”

Finally, keep in mind that it takes practice. Visiting friends, volunteering or getting to the gym will be hardest in the beginning (maybe after the initial surge of initiative has worn off). With repetition, you’ll make a better connection with the payoffs, and it will become easier.

6 Responses to “I Can’t Enjoy Anything”

  1. inkadu Says:

    It sounds like you’ve been feeling this way for a while. You may also have borderline personality disorder, which looks a lot like depression but differs in that it is always present. The depression question is, “Do you not enjoy activities that you once did?” If the answer is, “Well, I don’t really remember enjoying anything, particularly,” it might be borderline.

  2. Mary Says:

    How do you know if you have a personality disorder?

  3. Tom Linde Says:

    I can’t think of a way other than by getting an in-person evaluation from a professional. But try some reading from a reliable site, like this one.

  4. sean Says:

    “Let’s say you push yourself to take a walk. Without meaning to, you might go into it with hands clenched, head down, cursing under your breath and treating it like a forced march. You’ve done your walk, and gotten little pleasure. Or, you can keep your eyes up, look at interesting things, feel the air, hear the sounds, appreciate the rhythm in your stride and taking care not to use the time to stew about something you cannot control.”

    what if you don’t have rhythm in your stride and you don’t want to feel air, or hear sounds, and nothing’s interesting enough to look at?

  5. Tom Linde Says:

    My guess, Sean, is that you’re pretty depressed. I encourage you to resist the idea that there is nothing you can work toward. Please make an appointment to see a doctor or counselor, at the very least.

  6. Jerri Says:

    I’ve felt no interest or ability to enjoy anything for the past 30 years. I’ve pushed myself to take up hobbies and stick with them but I still don’t feel anything. I just go through the motions. Everything I do comes from my intellect. I make a decision to make something or collect something, but my emotions never get involved. I never feel joy. I never feel pleasure. I could throw everything I own in the bin tomorrow and feel nothing.
    You advise people to talk to a GP, but in reality they don’t listen and have nothing to offer. No-one can make your emotions switch back on. There is no magic bullet. Exercise, diet, hobbies, blah, blah, blah. Nothing does any good at all. And yes – I have done all those things. Doctors don’t have an answer for everything. And by the way, not everyone can ‘go for a walk’. My darling GP wouldn’t listen when I told him my toes were so painful I could hardly walk and now I can’t even leave the house.
    Funny (not) how people who give advice to people who are depressed always assume that everyone is healthy, has a good relationship with their GP and is positively knee-deep in loving and supportive friends and family.

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Tom Linde M.S.W.
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