The Zombie Mode

by: sundaepena

You can listen to audio clip here:

Narrated by the Author

“You don’t realize it’s on until you wake up. Some people call it drifting. It’s like going into Starbucks and ordering a cup of cafe mocha. The cashier goes on to ask whether you like it hot or cold. And you say, “Ehh, lukewarm”.

“Man, I wonder how that tastes like,” I chuckled.

“Oh, I’ll tell you. It tastes boring!”

The rest of us roared in laughter, but the truth behind that statement stung.

For a few weeks now, I’ve been feeling upbeat every single day. So curious, I took inventory of activities I was doing and bingo! I recognized I was singing in the car every day on my way to work!

I forgot how much singing made me feel joyful and alive. So I wondered, should I pick up old stuff again that used to make me happy?


When the pandemic hit the world, it felt like it would go on forever. There was no sense of certainty about the future. But, in retrospect, I realized that shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, tomorrow is never guaranteed.

To stay liquid, I aimed to reduce my stuff to fit 2 suitcases, knowing that anytime, I could go. So I started to sell all the bulky items I owned. Of course, the first ones to go were musical instruments. I justified it by saying, “I can still enjoy singing. I just need to be creative around it”.

Out of sight, out of mind.

For a time, creativity served me well. But not until a few weeks back, when I found myself playing guitar in a music store and started singing. Oh my, I felt like being myself again!

Days after, I went on to re-explore photography and exciting conversations.

Toying with my old camera got me beautiful photos.

by sundaepena
by: sundaepena
by: sundaepena

As to conversations, I made an effort to discuss topics I was curious about and enjoyed the most. These made my brain more alert and stimulated and helped me forge authentic connections with people I hang out with.

So why bring this up? 

I noticed that we tend to become more serious about life as we grow old. So it makes sense why most of us suffer from stress or burnout. We forgot how to have fun, how it feels to be joyful and excited. 

Think about:

  • a full-time parent who has not taken a break to do some self-care.
  • a researcher who has not gone out with friends for a long time.
  • a student who’s not pursued any hobby.
  • an employee who spends most of his waking hours at work.

It looks like these people’s sense of purpose or identity got a little too defined by only one aspect of life.  

Sooner or later, the imbalance will suck the happiness out of them like a dementor in a “Potter universe” would. They will lose the spark in their eyes, quite telling that the zombie mode is on.


Researchers and academics say that happiness, like a meal, has a few macro ingredients, and one of them is “Fun,” but not just any fun.  

A person needs to define what fun looks like to them. This exercise takes a dose of discernment and requires tuning out the noise around you to hear yourself. You have to know what you want. Not what the culture wants or your family desires. You need to focus on the wants that are inherent and true to you. 

I always use “yin-yang” as an expression to state how I value a sense of balance. In a world driven by productivity and peer pressure, I keep my sanity by indulging in activities that reignite the fire in my soul. Activities that make me feel alive and excited, joyful and authentic. To me, that’s singing, capturing beauty, and being caught in worthwhile, honest conversations.

At the very core, I believe we are built for joy, among other things. It’s innate, and putting barriers to block that natural expression will kill our humanity. As one of my mentors used to tell, “If you stop singing, you will explode.” And she’s right. I can’t bottle up this energy forever. Besides, what good will it create if I do?

So for you, my friend, what does joy or fun look like? What’s one thing that makes you feel excited right now? And what’s holding you back from doing it? 

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