Some years ago a young friend with growing pains asked me, “So what do you do when you’re having a crappy day?” I had to think really hard before replying “You know, I don’t have crappy days anymore.”
He looked at me incredulously, so I made up an answer to try to help him out. Find the cause of the crappy feeling and address it at its root – that kind of useless cliche. But privately I started to ask myself what had changed, and what better answer I could have given.
Crappy days in my youth
In my youth I had lots of crappy days. I was a moody, brooding teenager who slammed too many doors for my good. On my 21st birthday, friends celebrated for me with fireworks. Instead of being ecstatic at the wonderful party they were throwing for me, I just wanted to crawl into a hole and be alone. What a pain I was!
How did I get from crappy days to happy days? I think I basically stopped thinking in a way that made me feel crappy. These were the three main culprits.
Culprit #1: Seeking what is ‘right’
The specific issue making my young friend miserable was not knowing what he wanted to do with his career. He wanted so much to make the ‘right’ decision that it was causing him to lose sleep. I know what it’s like to be afraid of choosing ‘wrongly’. When I was younger, the fear of marrying the ‘wrong’ person kept me from marrying at all.
The illusion of right vs wrong, good vs bad is one of the biggest causes of unhappiness. Knowing right from wrong is useful in helping us to determine who we want to be and how we want to live. But projecting them onto external events causes us to give reality to something that is merely in our minds. When we stop labelling every decision as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, and cease to view every person as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, then we start to see past the labels to what just is.
Culprit #2: Valuing happiness over sadness
Viewing happiness as better than sadness ironically makes happiness elusive. Happiness and sadness are two sides of the same coin – one cannot exist without the other. How would you know something is hot if you didn’t know cold? It’s the same with happiness – we need sadness to define and appreciate happiness.
Learning to embrace all feelings as they come is the surest way to experience happiness to the full. At one point in my life I got sick of feeling sad, so I just stopped feeling altogether. Predictably, I couldn’t feel happiness either. I realised then that life was a roller-coaster ride of emotional ups and downs and I’d chosen to get off the train. So I got back on, accepting and even looking forward to the highs and lows. I’ve been having the ride of my life ever since.
Culprit #3: Thinking feelings are real
Feelings are real, and yet they’re not. Meditation reveals this dichotomy. Being able to observe our feelings as they drift in and out, like actors moving on and off a stage, helps us to understand that feelings are not really real. Yet just as white light is the sum total of all colours of the spectrum, our lives are made up of all our feelings and so feelings are part of our very real existence.
Understanding this, while difficult at first, allows us to appreciate happiness for what it is – unreal and impermanent, yet wonderful and to be enjoyed while it’s around. It’s like watching a good play and enjoying the emotions which the plot and actors bring out, yet knowing that we can leave the theatre any time. Once you can see life this way, you’ll be able to fully experience any feeling, including the crappy ones, and just leave them behind as you get on with your life.
Crappy days help us to grow
Sometimes, though rarely now, I still have crappy days. They’re not as bad as they used to be, and they don’t last long. But I’ve learned to celebrate them. They remind me how happy my other days are. It’s all part of life, and it’s all good.
So celebrate the crappy days when they come. Accept and enjoy your crappy feelings. And you know what? Someday you too will realise that you haven’t had crappy days in a long while.