It’s 3am. I’ve just woken up and one thought pushes its way to the front of my mind: “I hate my life.” It’s not a new thought, and is just the capstone of a hundred other irritations building up to it. As a Happiness Coach you’d think such a thought would be foreign to me. And yet, here it is. My old friend.
“Who could blame me,” I think. My life is sideways. Upside down, if I’m going to be totally honest. Lately, it seems everything I touch falls apart. My best efforts backfire, disastrously. No matter how much I give, the world wants more. I’m stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted to the bone. The fact that I can’t seem to get a good night’s rest is just the cherry on top of my Self-Defeat Sundae. Along with hating my life, I wonder why I even bother.
A couple decades ago, the thought, “I hate my life” would have been a devastating place. Not that it’s a picnic now, but I have a different perspective on things. I have learned many useful life lessons and life tools. I’m familiar with digging myself out of predicaments like this. And, I’ve overcome tougher times.
I know that “I hate my life” is just a thought — a melodramatic, fatalistic device of my ego. I choose not to believe it because there is more going on underneath. So I ask myself, “Where is this thought coming from? What is this ominous feeling, really trying to say?” A shocking epiphany dawns on me:
“You hate your life because you love your life.”
Zoinks! That’s a groundbreaking thought for me. It takes me way, way back to a time when I really and truly hated my life. I was twenty-five years old and was just about to commit suicide. At that time the epiphany that stopped me was that I had never — really and truly — lived. I had always lived by others’ expectations and rules. I did what others told me would make me happy only to find that most of it was a gigantic farce. I’d never really lived my own life, explored this world and discovered what makes me happy. How could I die before even having a chance to Live?
For eighteen years I’ve dived into life doing things that terrified me and taken leaps of faith that would stop many people dead in their tracks. I’ve sought answers to life’s deepest questions. I’ve sought meaning and purpose in an indifferent Universe. I’ve sought tools for healing from the past and overcoming life’s difficulties. And…I’ve found all of the above. It has been the adventure of my life. Now there’s a new question for me to find an answer for:
“How can hating your life possibly mean you love it?”
Hate Is a Strong Word
When I say I hate something, even if it’s something benign like butterscotch candy, people often recoil like I just dropped the F-bomb. “Hate is a strong word!” they retort, like I’ve offended their delicate senses. When did “hate” become a four-letter word? I’m not afraid of words. Nor am I afraid to say I hate something. It’s okay that I hate butterscotch candies. All words have the power we give them, so we must use them wisely. So, let’s dive into the truth about hate.
Hate is a byproduct of fear, pure and simple. Anyone who feels hatred is afraid of something. I’m not afraid of butterscotch candy so I guess “hate” isn’t the right word. I don’t like the taste. That’s a more accurate description than saying I hate them. This morning, when my mind thought, “I hate my life,” I quickly wondered, “What am I afraid of?” When my mind replied that I hate my life because I love it, it seemed like I might not be using the word “hate” accurately. Like butterscotch candies, it might help to find a better way to describe my emotions.
What don’t I like about my life? That’s the real question. Well, it’s the same things I described above. Things aren’t going my way. I’m working my butt off without much to show for it. The world doesn’t seem to have a place for me. The people who love me, judge me the worst. There’s a laundry list of things I don’t like about my life. But where does this pressing dissatisfaction come from? Simple:
The desire for things to be better.
Use It or Lose It
There is nothing wrong with wanting your life to be better. In fact, there’s a word for it: Ambition. Ambition is the urge to improve your life and is the basic force of evolution surging through your psyche. It’s what we do with our ambition that makes or breaks our life experience. We can either use it, or lose it.
“Lose it” has two meanings. The first is like muscle atrophy. If you don’t use a muscle, it weakens and you lose the ability to use it. If you don’t exercise your itch for something better, then your life is at the mercy of your circumstances. You’ll live constantly reacting to…everything. If things turn out in your favor, then you’re just lucky. If things don’t go your way you end up playing the blame game. Either way, your unique appetite for improvement wanes. The courage to live your own life fades into white noise.
The second meaning is “losing control.” It’s no secret that unchecked ambition can become a voracious beast that devours you, your life, and everyone in its wake. Wild ambition can consume peace and happiness to ashes. Ambition-gone-awry can sabotage the good things in your life and leave you morally bankrupt. Whichever way we “lose it,” whether by apathy or recklessness, when we look back on our lives, it’s with regret.
Now…let’s get to the bright side: “Use it.” Using your ambition is a conscious act of channeling your aspirations and enthusiasm into worthwhile pursuits. It is a balancing act of finding that path between too much and too little. Diving wisely into our ambitions means trusting ourselves to follow our passions without being overwhelmed by them. We remember to use ambition as a tool, rather than letting it use us.
If we hit that Goldilock-spot of having just the right amount of ambition, then we will feel immense amounts of satisfaction from our efforts. However, we will also feel a slight twinge of dissatisfaction. That little bit of yearning is the zeal that continues to drive us. Using our ambition properly allows us to go to bed each night feeling like we did our best. We also feel okay knowing our work isn’t complete. We’ll do even more or even better, tomorrow. The main idea is to keep our dissatisfaction in check.
When I woke up with the thought, “I hate my life,” it meant that bit of dissatisfaction had gotten out of hand. My ego had begun obsessing on all the wrong things. I had let my life fall out of balance and out of harmony. I’d been overdoing it, spreading myself too thin, and watching my destiny slip away into oblivion. So dramatic, right? Well, that’s how we feel when we’re “losing it.” Finding ourselves in this state begs the question:
“How do we move from ‘losing it’ back to ‘using it’?”
Shifting From “Hate” To Love
How do we move from imbalance to balance, disharmony to harmony, disarray to order, dissatisfaction to delight? Here are some thoughts:
RESET YOUR PERSPECTIVE. Remind yourself that hating your life actually comes from love. Your love for life is why you want things to be better. That’s why you want to feel better. The longing that drives your very existence is letting you know, “Hey, things are sideways. It’s time to set things right!” When you remember that love is the primary, driving force of your life, you can relax. Things are going to be okay. You can act from love and compassion, rather than fear and reaction.
SET YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT. An imbalanced life is a good indication that our priorities are out of alignment. We’re spending our time on things that hinder us rather than lift us up. We’re driven by our obligations rather than intentions. We might be doing the right things for the wrong reasons. Our priorities are where we spend our time, so what are you spending your time on? What thoughts and emotions do you give the most time to? Where and how should you be spending your time? Start doing that!
SELF-CARE. Self-care isn’t necessarily a spa day or an elaborate getaway. Self-care is the kindness we give ourselves in our thoughts and actions. Self-care means prioritizing ourselves a little better. What do we need to feel grounded and loved? This may be any positive activity from reading good books to meditating, exercise or diving into a favorite hobby. Self-care helps us feel like our own needs are being met. Balance work, rest and play. When we fill our cup properly each day, we have the mental, emotional and physical bandwidth to handle life’s other demands.
SET HEALTHY BOUNDARIES. Healthy boundaries are one of the most important and powerful tools for setting our life back upright. Healthy boundaries help us cordon our time, attention, priorities, people and habits. They help us limit exposure to negativity, let people know how we expect to be treated, remind us to stay on track rather than getting distracted. When we set the right boundaries in our lives, they do the worrying for us so we don’t have to.
MANAGE THE “FOUR FOLLIES”. The Four Follies are the biggest pitfalls we set for ourselves in life: Judgments, expectations, assumptions and attachments. When life feels upside down, no doubt we have some judgments, expectations, assumptions and/or attachments that have gotten out of hand. We should always be asking questions like: “Am I judging unfairly? Are my expectations fair and realistic? What assumptions have I made? Have I become too attached to something or someone?” When we find answers to these questions we must practice letting go of our frustrations so we can flow with life again.
LET THINGS FALL APART. This one sounds scary at first, but it can be immensely cathartic when done properly. It’s normal to try and control the world around us. It’s part of human nature to maintain the status quo, fix every problem, and go to extreme lengths to avoid new problems. However, this sense of control is a complete illusion. While we try to hold everything together, we become crushed under the burden. Letting things fall apart means taking a step back. Let go of the illusion of control. Let ourselves fall apart a little. Let go of the illusion of who we think we are and how we’re supposed to be. Let some problems fix themselves, even if the process is awkward and “imperfect.” When things have a chance to dismantle a little, then we are able to put things together differently, hopefully better.
Turn Your Toes and Go
These two quotes sum up this section:
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao Tzu
“Your focus determines your reality.” George Lucas
If you ever wake up hating your life, remember that happiness is a journey. Sometimes the path will be rocky, confusing or burdensome. Don’t waste your time lamenting your circumstances. Don’t let sadness or resentment distract you from the real point: It’s time to love your life with renewed vigor and appreciation. It’s time to dive in and embrace the adventure. It’s time to live your life the best ways you possibly can. The journey of happiness includes times that test and refine us. While these processes can be painful, they make us who we are. If we let them, our struggles can actually bring out the best in us.
We’ll never get what we want in life by focusing on what we don’t want. Life satisfaction comes from focusing on what we do want and going for it. Will the journey be perfectly smooth sailing? No. Will we still have troubles? Absolutely. Having a happy life doesn’t mean having zero troubles. A happy life means avoiding the pitfalls we can, navigating life’s storms with some wisdom and grace, picking ourselves up when we fall, and trying again.
Lao Tzu talks about the first step of a journey. But what about the other million or so steps? Of those, all we ever have is the step before us. Just the next step. The best we can do at any step in life is to turn our toes in the direction we want to go, and step. Again and again. No matter where we are in life. No matter our circumstances. No matter our mental, emotional or physical state. No matter how many mistakes we’ve made or missteps we may have taken. The best we can do is turn our toes in the direction we wish to go, and take that next step. Wisely. Trustingly. Hopefully. Kindly. Courageously.
So? Where would you love to go in life? Get a clear picture in your mind of who you want to be, and how you want to show up in this world. Now, turn your toes in that direction, and…go! You can do it!