The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation

the mass of men lead a life of quiet depression

Henry David Thoreau’s quote “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” was an observation that most people live an empty life caused by unfulfilling work, lack of leisure time and misplaced values; money, possessions and accolades. Thoreau claims the value we attach to possessions, money and status is wrong. Quiet desperate lives are routine and emotionless, moreover, a life of misplaced values will lead to unhappiness.

My life of quiet desperation

I have a pointless and unfulfilling job; days are filled with mind-numbing meetings, unnecessary emails and make-believe PowerPoint slides. This isn’t special, a large proportion of today’s jobs are completely meaningless according to David Graeber (author of Bullshit Jobs). A YouGov poll found that only 50 percent of people in the UK are sure their job makes some sort of meaningful contribution to the world, and 37 percent are quite sure it doesn’t.

“Capitalism creates unnecessary jobs in order for the wheels to merely keep on turning.”

– David Graeber

Spending 5 days from 7 (~70% of my life) in a pointless and uninteresting job puts me in the quiet desperation category for sure.

The Joe Rogan Show

I came across Thoreau’s quote while watching the Joe Rogan show. Rogan says it’s one of his favourite quotes and has some inspiring thoughts that are worth listening to:

Joe Rogan’s favourite quote: ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’

Extracts from podcast:

JR: It’s one of my favourite quotes ever. I’ve been that guy when you’re in a world where you can’t wait to just run away.

JR: You have to take the path that’s dangerous and most people want to take the safe path and end up with a life of quiet desperation and it’s hell … you end up selling insurance or some other shit you care zero about.

AJ: How do people get stuck there?
JR: Bills and commitments. You have an apartment you have to pay for, you have a car you lease, a wife you need to feed, you have your this and your that … your options are severely limited as you gather responsibilities.

AJ: But can people just make that change?
JR: Yes, you can but you have to plan it out. You have to put enough money aside to give yourself a window and you have to have a plan, and you have to work every hour outside of whatever shit job you do, to plan your escape like your life depends on it.

Escaping a life of quiet desperation

I can save as I don’t have many commitments. I don’t have a wife, no kids and little to no debt. This just leaves the plan, here are my initial thoughts:

  • One of the reasons I started this blog was to have a reason to think more. I see this blog as part of my plan. Writing this post has forced me to think and document ideas that I wouldn’t have previously done.
  • Once I have savings, I’d use this window to do something I truly enjoy: research, write, practise and learn subjects that interest me. The goal is to earn enough to cover basic living costs from publishing interesting content. The aim isn’t to live a lavish lifestyle, otherwise, I’d continue in my current job. The aim is to live a meaningful life. Thoreau believed we only need meagre comforts in life and he practised this by moving to Walden Pond. Living by a pond is probably extreme, however, I have too much stuff and life is too comfortable (quiet).
  • The how:
    • Read more books and travel to generate ideas and life an interesting life.
    • Experience as much as possible. Before a life of travel begins, get out and experience new things on a regular basis. You only grow as a person when you’re uncomfortable, living a comfortable life is a forgettable life.
    • Become accountable by tracking monthly performance, “what gets measured gets done”.

That’s all I have to write for now on my life of quiet desperation and Thoreau’s quote ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’. Thank you for reading and please leave any of your thoughts, questions and suggestions below.

3 thoughts on “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation

    1. Hi Kevin,

      The plan was to escape June-time this year, however, with the current coronavirus situation, stock market crash and general economic uncertainty, I’m holding off. It could well be that I’m pushed as mass layoffs start to happen! The majority of my income will come from a rental property and if there’s no one around to rent, then it becomes a problem! ..let’s hope it doesn’t get that bad.


  1. I rather like Bill Withers’ take on this quote. (‘The Bill Withers’ Story’). He continues from ‘quiet desperation’ with: ‘ I wondered what would happen if my desperation were LOUDER!’ (my capitals). I take it as one way to follow my dreams.

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