Having a Lousy Day? Do This.
Maybe right now your life sucks.
I hope not, but we all have those days. Or weeks, or years. Our jobs turn ugly, we don’t get what we want or we lose something — or worse, someone — we once held dear. Our plans go haywire, as though some demonic puppet master is tangling our strings no matter how hard we try to move forward.
Or maybe you’re simply indulging in a crappy mood or an epic sulk. We all do that from time to time too. It’s called being human.
But why let it suck any longer than you have to?
Suffering is part of life, as any self-respecting Buddhist will tell you. But you don’t get brownie points for extending your misery needlessly. It may feel like climbing a mountain of sand to even think about getting yourself out of a deep funk, but it’s both possible and entirely doable.
It does mean you have to be willing to try. And then you have to summon enough energy to at least get started.
That’s the hardest part, actually. The next part is fun, once you achieve some momentum. As my jolly old (also wildly successful and wealthy) Uncle Harold used to say, here’s the whole thing:
Do something nice for someone else.
I told you, no eye-rolling. When you’re feeling sour, this admonition might land on you with all the appeal of chewing aluminum foil. Because right now you hate the whole world and everybody in it.
Do it anyway.
Don’t try to go full Mother Teresa all at once; that’ll just make you feel hopeless and maybe worse than you already do. Start small. Give someone a compliment. Preferably someone you don’t know.
One caveat here, particularly for men: stay away from commenting on any woman’s physical attributes. You can say something nice about her voice, or her dog, or her shoes (shoes are nearly always safe). Just don’t describe any of them as sexy.
Even a feeble, halfway-sincere attempt at a compliment is likely to get a positive response. It may not be enough to break through the crust of your mopish perspective, but it will make a dent. And that should give you enough steam to go a bit further.
Go out of your way to help someone.
Yes, I’m familiar with the old joke about the Boy Scout helping the old lady across the street (when that’s not where she wanted to go). Still, life is full of opportunities to be of use to our fellow passengers on Planet Earth.
It’s autumn. Offer to rake someone’s leaves. Or help somebody carry their groceries if they seem open to it. Let somebody else have the parking space. If you’re tall, reach for the item on the high shelf for your fellow shopper who’s not as vertically blessed.
By the way, no rule says the recipient of your thoughtfulness has to be human. Doing something kind for an animal in distress or need is one of the most powerful antidotes for the doldrums that exists. Of course, exercise caution when it comes to wild critters, but any animal shelter I’ve ever heard of is always looking for volunteers.
Here’s why this works.
First of all, it forces you to shift your attention from your troubles. It’s like changing the channel on your car radio — which I realize is kind of an outdated analogy, but you get what I mean.
When you’re feeling low, your instinct may be to jump in a hole and pull the hole in after you. There may indeed be times when you have a legitimate need to find solitude to process something difficult, but don’t let your self-imposed exile go on for too long.
If you’ve been holed up alone for longer than two days, without having a non-digital conversation with another person, it’s time to haul your sorry ass out the door and back into the world. And that right there will force you to adjust your focus, at least a teensy bit.
As your focus shifts, so must your energy. The tiniest spark of interest in something beyond your own woeful self can, if properly encouraged, burst into the warm glow of enthusiasm. And if you can be simultaneously enthusiastic and down in the dumps, I’ll eat my hat.
Helping out means you’re engaging with the world. Since isolation is a key ingredient in a spell of the blues, interacting with others is an express route to feeling better.
Before long, and maybe despite yourself, your downward spiral will reverse.
Emotions are neither good nor bad; they simply are. Some you prefer, and some you would like to avoid. The thing about emotions is that they come and go. When they get stuck, that’s when things go south.
Again, getting your mind off yourself and onto something else — especially some arena where you can have a positive effect, however small — is the key to begin cycling upward again.
Trust me on this.
No, my rich Uncle Harold didn’t leave me a fortune (or anything at all) in his will. I’m happy anyway. And if I do have to eat my hat, I’ll make one out of chocolate. Want to help?
Check out my other posts this November as I explore radical gratitude, in a challenge to find the miraculous hidden in the everyday. If you feel inspired to join me, by all means, write on!