All of us have days that are the absolute worst. We might wake up feeling awful and miserable, and we have no idea why. Sometimes, on the other hand, we know exactly why we hate everything , but we still do not have any idea what to do about it.
All of these feelings can be really painful, and they can be especially painful when we are at a loss as to how to act or what to do to make things better. I have days like this, too. In fact, I just had one the other day, so I wanted to write this post about five things you can do when you hate everything.
#1. The first important thing you can do when you hate everything is to realize that you are not required to do anything. It is completely and absolutely normal to have bad days, even really bad days, in which you feel angry, sad, discouraged, lonely, and even hopeless and despairing. Sometimes we feel like there is something wrong with us if we are not bright and chipper all the time. But our life is not a carnival cruise, it is a human experience. A normal human experience is like an ocean of waves that has both moments of happiness, joy, and connection, as well as moments of sadness, abjection, and loneliness. So, not to make light of your bad day, but “Congrats to you on your bad day. You are a perfectly normal human being.” (Here is something you can say to yourself on those bad days: “These feelings are perfectly normal. There is nothing wrong with me.”)
But even though it is normal to have bad days, We still might wonder if there is any other way we can respond to them–some helpful way that acknowledges the pain we feel as normal without turning the pain into prolonged suffering. There are definitely helpful and skillful ways we can respond to our pain, so let us look at those now.
#2. The second thing you can do when you are having a horrible day is to recognize that your feelings will not last forever and that you are not the same thing as your feelings. As I mentioned in #1, the human experience is like an ocean of waves. It is a constant process of climbing to happiness and sailing down into sadness. (Some of us have big waves of happiness and sadness, and some of us have smaller waves of happiness and sadness). These are just the natural paths our emotions take. Sometimes we mistakenly believe that we are the waves of happiness and sadness, but we can actually learn to be the boat that surfs and rides the waves.
If we identify ourselves with the waves of happiness and sadness, we often end up drowning in them. When we learn to identify ourselves with the boat instead of the waves, we can step back from our feelings and gain objectivity. This allows us to say things like “Oh, I am experiencing a lot of happiness now. Wow, that is a great feeling.” or “Oh, I am feeling a lot of sadness and hopelessness today. I honor those feelings, and I know they are not going to last forever.” Learning to identify ourselves as the boat that surfs the waves, instead of the waves themselves, allows us to become a skillful navigator of our own human experience. (Here is something you can say to yourself on those bad days: “I am not the waves; I am the boat skillfully sailing the waves.)
#3. The third thing you can do when you hate everything is to help yourself surf the waves of emotions through intentional breathing. For example, if you are having a bad day, you might find a quiet place (even if it is the bathroom stall at work, or even if it just your own mind), and practice this breathing technique: breathe slowly in to the count of four; hold it for a second or two; breathe out for the count of four. You can repeat this as many times as needed.
Using breathing techniques like this is so simple that it may seem useless, but it is helpful for two reasons. First, focusing on your breathing, even if just for a minute, takes your mind off your painful emotions. This allows you to de-escalate your pain. I don’t know about you, but often when I am having painful emotions, it is not the painful emotions that cause me the most problems; rather, it is how I respond to them that causes problems. For example, I may be feeling really sad one day, but the sadness does not cause me problems–rather, it is the eight cups of coffee I drink to numb the sadness that causes the problems. Or it is the way I binge on silly TV shows to numb the sadness that causes the problems. (And by the way, sometimes we can choose to numb painful feelings in a way that does not cause problems.) Breathing creates space that allows me to de-escalate my painful feelings so that I can make wise choices.
Second, while we are perfectly allowed to feel our painful feelings as long as we need to, focusing on breathing can often dissipates sadness and anger. Most of us, including myself, often go through our days breathing really shallowly. Sometimes our painful feelings are our body telling us, “Please, for the Love of God, slow down and breathe. I am oxygen-deprived”. We can never go wrong giving more oxygen to our body, and we will almost always do ourselves a world of good. Breathe. (Here is something you can say to yourself on those bad days: “Breathe in, 2, 3, 4; breathe out, 2, 3, 4).
#3. The third thing you can do when you hate everything is to show compassion to yourself. Think back to a time when you were having a rough go of it, and a friend really empathized with and honored your pain. Maybe he or she took your hand and said, with no judgement at all, something like “I am so sorry you are having these feelings. I wish I could make it better.” This is what compassion looks like. The Latin roots for the word compassion are cum and patior, which imply “suffering with”. All of us need people to show compassion to us (to suffer with us) without any judgement. Generally speaking, this brings us relief.
The good news is that we can learn to show ourselves this same kind of compassion, and when we do, it often relieves our suffering. One of the best way to show yourself compassion is to adopt a saying or a mantra you can repeat to yourself when you are feeling bad. Here is a simple one: “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be free from suffering.” Another one I like to say to myself is, “Shelly, I love you. I always have your back. I am here for you.” (Of course, if you use this mantra, use your own name instead of mine.) I often sit on the floor, put my hand over my heart, and say this out loud to myself. It almost always immediately calms me down.
We often learn the importance of showing compassion to other people, but we do not often learn the importance of showing compassion to ourselves. But we are the closest person to us, so our self-compassion is very important. Often once we extend compassion to ourselves, we can extend to others as well: “May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings be at peace.”
#4. A fourth thing we can do when we are having a bad day is to realize that we are not responsible for anything but the moment we are in right now. One of the most frequent causes of my horrible days is worry. I start worrying about something later that day or next week or next month or even a year from now. I worry that I need to know exactly how things are going to turn out, and that I must have a plan to address all contingencies. None of this is true. The only thing I am responsible for–in fact the only thing I can be responsible for–is the moment I am in right now. In fact, the more I am present with myself in this moment, the more I empower myself for the future. Each moment is an opportunity to develop compassion, steadiness, and love. I cannot know what issues I will face in the future or the specific choices I will need to make. I cannot know how I will change or how the world will change. No one can know any of these things. But what I can know is right now. I can know the resources I am building right now that will enable me to respond with compassion to everyone, including myself, at all times. (Here is something you can say to yourself on those bad days: “I am only responsible for this moment.”)
So far you have learned four helpful things you can do when you hate everything. And now you can break into a rousing chorus of “If You’re Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands.”
Just Kidding. Here is one final thing you can do on those horrible days when you hate everything.
#5. A fifth thing you can do when you hate everything is to realize that your life is your life and there is no one right way to do it. All that is important is that you proceed with compassion. You get to feel sad as long as is necessary. There is nothing wrong with that. No one has ever lived your life, and so no one can tell you exactly how to do it. You may be a person that has more happy days. You may be a person that has more sad days. Both of those ways are perfectly fine, and you just need to keep showing up for your life and showing yourself compassion. When we live our own unique life, and not the life that we think we should live, or that someone else is telling us we should live, that is when we really start to inhabit our life. When we inhabit our life, we own it, accept it, live fully in it, and that is when adventures really start to happen.
Friend, I am sorry you are having a horrible day. I wish you to be happy, to be healthy, and to be free from suffering. But you get to hate everything as long as you need to do so. You are a normal human being having a normal human experience. I am grateful for your life.
Peace to You,
If you liked this post, you might also like to read about how to feel safe; why you are more powerful than you think; how to handle bullies; and how to build a hope sandwich you can eat every day.
You might also like my recent blog post “Five Really Good Things the President Taught Me (In Spite of Himself).”