The solution is simple, yet not easy, don’t run away.
Feeling like shit is not fun, is it?
Like when my girlfriend, let’s call her Juanita, dumped me a couple of years ago. I still remember the hot summer night, the bench, the trees, and the park where it happened. God, it felt so terribly bad. I remember driving back to my parent’s house sobbing and thinking I just had lost the most beautiful and funny girl I was ever going to be with. I felt like crap, I was crap. But don’t worry, that was years ago and I’ve had other amazing relationships by now, that have as well, made me feel like crap, and amazing, and then like crap again, you know the drill.
Do you remember the first time you failed a test at school? For me, it was 4th grade of elementary school. It felt so terribly bad. I was used to getting good grades all the time so that failing grade made me feel like a literal idiot. I obviously hid it from my mom and to this day she never found out. Sorry, mom.
But then I became an adult and going through a college break up or failing for the first time are nothing in comparison to the shitfests you get to experience when you grow up. Life can get and often will get, really, fucking, hard. It’s hard to think about happiness and enjoyment when you’re in these crappy situations. All you really want to happen is for the situation to end and become happy or at least normal again.
You try to deny your situation, you deny your feelings, you prefer to turn your eyes away.
When you feel like crap, it’s funny. It seems that you do everything in your power to keep feeling that way. When I’m hungover, I don’t go for a run and sweat it, no, I order crappy food and I watch the dumbest videos I can find on youtube. I hate myself on a hangover. Or maybe a really bad breakup! What do you do? Reflect and think about what you can do for your future relationships to get better? Of course not. I grab a couple of beers and try to run away, unsuccessfully, from the pain.
What you resist persists
Running away from the moment and all of its components does not work. In wanting and striving for your feelings and your situation to go away or magically vanish from your life you are actually holding and grasping those very feelings and situations. Wanting the feelings of crappiness to go away just like that is literally fighting against life and its natural flow. Fighting against life is a game that you will never win.
“The willing are led by fate, the reluctant are dragged.” ― Cleanthes of Assos
Therefore, the only solution is to work with life, and in this case, with your crappy feelings.
The Law of Reversed Effort
I went to eat tacos with my brother and a couple of friends the other day. When you are finished eating, they bring along with the check delicious mints. The package of the mints is clever, like the fortune cookies, they come with a quote. I reached for my mint and read the following:
Happiness is, inside sadness.
I still keep that mint with me. It blew my mind and still think about it now. Let me elaborate.
I first heard of The Law of Reversed Effort from Alan Watts in his eye-opening book, The Wisdom of Insecurity. The law states that the more you try to avoid the negative experience of life, the more negative it becomes, and at the same time, when you willingly confront the negative, it becomes more positive. The more you try to run away from your problems and your feelings, the stronger they will become, the more you choose to confront them, the stronger you become.
There is happiness in sadness and there is sadness in happiness. The same woman or man that gives you love and attention can give you the pain of dishonesty and indifference. The immense love your parents gave you will make it the harder to let them go when it comes the time. The more terrible the hardship and the challenge, the more glory there is in overcoming it.
The problem comes when we stuck the wheels of life by denying it and wanting it to be different. When we just want happiness and pleasure without accepting the sad and the hard. In doing this, we are adding unnecessary suffering, we are working against life instead of working with it.
The good thing is that life is always changing. What is bad today, will be good tomorrow and what is good today can be bad in the future. Things and, in this case, feeling like crap, never stay the same. Which leads me to write about the Hedonic Treadmill.
The Hedonic Treadmill
The Hedonic Treadmill states that no matter what you go through in life, you will always get to the natural, normal, state you find yourself in most of the time.
This is why you are going to feel the same after a couple of months, or more accurately, days after buying the new iPhone. Sure it will bring lots of benefits and awesome features to your life, but will it sustain that feeling of joy you had when you had it in your hands for the first time? Hardly.
The same holds true for crappy feelings and hard situations. We might think that they are going to last forever but they not. We swerve to our normal states again and again.
There is happiness in sadness and sadness in happiness, remember?
If you’re able to accept this truth and accept the totality of life, great! You are one step forward. However, bear in mind that this approach is not the norm and you’ll certainly have to fight the urge of running away from life and its ups and downs.
The hedonic treadmill is great for brands when you cannot accept the totality of life.
When you cannot accept the sad and just want the happy, you are in the constant lookout to avoid the sad and with it, life itself. This you can do with shopping, drinking, watching Instagram for two hours, buying McDonald’s and washing it down with(bottled happiness) coca-cola until you feel sicker and sicker and instead of taking responsibility, you blame it on the situation that supposedly has you binging on the banal, avoiding those crappy feelings you are terrified of. Every major brand is telling you all the time:
“Oh, do you feel sad? Come, come, just buy these new shoes and you’ll feel better.” “Drink this! You’ll feel amazing.” And it works, we are hooked on it. The Opium Crisis is not happening without a reason.
The Way Out
Running away is not the answer, running away is not human.
There is absolutely nothing bad with feeling like crap. It’s natural, it means that you are human. You will never grow as a person if you keep running away from your problems and your emotions, it is in those very problems and emotions where happiness and glory await. There is great depth in the human experience and in running away you deny it with the shallow.
“What would have become of Hercules do you think if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar — and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges?
Obviously he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules.
And even if he had, what good would it have done him? What would have been the use of those arms, that physique, and that noble soul, without crises or conditions to stir into him action?”
― Epictetus, The Discourses
I take a full and complete life every day. Instead of the shallowness of the pleasures, we are forcibly being fed from all fronts.
As Marcus Aurelius said, the obstacle is the way. At the same time, remember, there is happiness in sadness and sadness in happiness, so feeling like crap is, in fact, the beginning of something good. There is a lesson to be learned in the shit fests. Those are the times in life where we learn the most.
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