Have you ever noticed how much life sucks?
It’s full of people who are dumb, angry and selfish. They get in your way. They don’t listen to you. There are too many of them. It would suck less if there were not as many.
And the thing is, you can’t escape people. They are everywhere.
You have to see them when you’re on your way to work. You can’t avoid them on your weekly grocery shop.
And most of the time they are all wrong. None of them gets your point of view and that totally sucks.
Time sucks too because it’s way too short. There just isn’t enough of it.
And the short amount of time we do have sucks because it’s never as good as some time that’s already past or some time that’s about to come. I’m always annoyed at how this time right now sucks.
But then, when a good time finally does come around it sucks because it just slips away and before you know it you’re back to some boring other time and the good time is over.
Objects suck because they always end up wearing out or breaking and no matter what you do they never look as shiny as on the day you first got them.
And someone always has an object that is better than your object. So no matter what, your objects always suck in comparison.
Objects promise so much and then under deliver.
Your body sucks. It gets broken and tired and sick and fat. After a while, it gets old and stops working well and you need to be careful with it but no matter what you do it will never be the same again.
There is always some ache or pain you need to deal with. And no matter what you do there is always some part of it that doesn’t look as good as you hope.
So let’s just say, we’ve established that lots of things suck.
You can’t escape the fact that life sucks
No matter how long you meditate, how religiously you follow any dogma or how much money you accumulate life will suck.
Your life will suck today and it will suck for every day that you continue to live. There is nothing you can do to change that because escaping the fact that life sucks sometimes is impossible.
But what did you expect? A red carpet? An endless party?
We live at the high point of human history to date. Our comfort levels are through the roof. Medical care is better than it ever was. We’re wealthier and more productive than any humans to come before us. A vast universe of entertainment lies at our fingertips each day.
So, you might say, don’t we have all this technology and stuff to make life suck a little less already? We must be around the corner from making a life that doesn’t suck a reality, right?
But still, there are things that suck. And they don’t seem to be disappearing, no matter how many times we get a new iPhone.
The Buddhists recognised this a long time ago. Their idea is that we’re all stuck on this big wheel of suffering and it just keeps on turning. Round and round it goes and the only people who can get off are the ones who become enlightened. For everyone else on the wheel, life is going to suck sometimes.
Now, I’m not going to try and sell you enlightenment. I don’t think that’s possible. But I do think we could help slow that wheel down a little by observing a few facts.
Pleasure and pain are the same slice of bread
First of all, I want to take a moment to explain why things suck in the first place. Because if we can get our heads around why things are this way it can help us consider some strategies for dealing with it.
The world is made up of many connected phenomena. Light is defined by dark. Tall is defined by small. Long is defined by short. Sweet is defined by sour. What’s great is defined by what sucks.
This conjoined nature is hard to understate. For example, imagine that you love someone dearly. You’ve known them your whole life and they mean a lot to you. The more that you love this person, the greater your grief is going to be when they die. As one side is increased so, by necessity, is the other.
This dynamic is found everywhere, especially when it comes to pleasure and pain. Our pleasures either become boring or must continually be dialled up leading us to one of two situations: dissatisfaction or an eventual over-loading of the senses resulting in sickness.
When we get bored of the pleasure we are dissatisfied and feel like the thing we once enjoyed is no longer as good. If we don’t get bored of our pleasure, we chase bigger and bigger hits of this pleasure. The logical conclusion being some kind of addictive behaviour. And that’s a whole world of pain and things that suck. It turns out that chasing pleasure so thoroughly only ends up leading us to pain.
So, put simply, things suck because there are things that don’t. Trying to create a world that doesn’t suck is like trying to slice bread so there’s only one side. It doesn’t work, no matter how thinly you slice it.
How do we deal with all this crap?
If things by definition have to suck sometimes, and there is nothing we can do to change that, is there anything we can do? Well yes, I think there is.
The picture I painted above might seem a little pessimistic and grim. But I don’t think it is. It’s just a clear assessment of how things are. The real problem lies in our approach to the whole situation.
What are our options for dealing with the fact that life sucks? Well, we have a few tactics at our disposal:
- Change the way we view the things that suck in our life
- Understand the difference between things we can and can’t change
- Try to find value in the things we dislike about our life
Let’s examine each of these tactics one by one…
You decide how bad things are
When something sucks you have to ask yourself, why does it suck so much?
Is there a way that it might suck less?
Does it suck at all? Or am just operating on first impressions?
When we ask ourselves these questions we are actually doing something pretty radical. Rather than taking the raw material of our life at face value, we’re claiming ownership of it. When you do this everything that sucks in your life becomes yours to categorise.
Only you get to experience all the unique disappointments and dissatisfactions that your life will bring. No one else. As a result, only you can decide how bad these things are. It’s up to you whether you want to live with something or reject it. You can decide that you don’t mind something that many other people might say sucks. Yes, it is within your power to do that.
Sometimes people might tell you how bad things are. I’ve had people say ‘oh it must be such a shame that you’re bald.’ But how do they know if it’s a shame? I’m the only one who can decide how much being bald sucks for me. If I listened to them, I’d be walking around slapping my head in frustration.
In my mid-twenties I was always anxious and stressed out. Things never happened quickly enough, nothing ever satisfied me and money, well, there was just never enough of it. That was because I allowed other people’s value systems and ideas define what sucked and what didn’t for me. I was letting people tell me that being bald sucked.
Eventually, I learnt that you can train your mind to not only accept things that suck but to actually see value in them. So yes, I’m telling you that I learnt to see being bald as a blessing and not a curse (ask me about it sometime!).
Learning the difference between what you can and cannot change
It’s not my place to say you shouldn’t try and change things that suck. If something sucks bad enough then you’ll try and change it. And that’s a good thing. If stuff didn’t suck we wouldn’t have a reason to make it better. You would never have left that deadbeat boyfriend or gone looking for a better job, or finally sat down and talked things through with your sister, or gotten off your ass and started hitting the gym.
But there are some things that suck and we can’t change them. These are the things we often find the most painful and uncomfortable. And that’s because not having control is a scary feeling. People go to all kinds of crazy lengths to try and control things that they can’t. It usually causes more problems than it solves.
As the famous serenity prayer goes:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and the Wisdom to know the difference.
Knowing the difference means having the courage to let go of the stuff we can’t change. Letting life be what it is.
When we do that, we often have more energy for focusing on the things we can change. By letting go, we grow.
Then we start to slow down the wheel of suffering. We make the things we can’t change important teachers. We learn to accept the that sometimes things suck but something good can come of it anyway.
The true value of all the things you don’t like
I’ve never felt so good as when I’ve spent four and a half hours running through the streets of Berlin in the baking sun. My legs were screaming and cramping up after a marathon. My body was covered in sweat, my feet blistered and sore. Everything leading up to the moment before I crossed that finish line sucked. But never have I truly enjoyed how peaceful sitting on a sidewalk with a cold cup of water can be until that day.
When I first started running I didn’t like it. People told me how hard running could be and I got bored with it easily. I knew I needed to keep running anyway because I wanted to get fit.
I soon discovered that I’m not a natural runner. In fact, running is difficult for me. No matter how much I’ve trained, running has never come easily. My legs are thick and short and I can’t change that. Instead, I did what I could to change my fitness levels and learn to run in a way that suited me.
I’m glad I decided to keep running. Because if I’d never persisted, I wouldn’t have had that experience on a sidewalk in Berlin – one that’s pretty important to me.
Sometimes we go through things that suck but when we come out the other side we’ve learnt something. Maybe that’s something about ourselves or maybe we’ve just learnt to appreciate something we took for granted before.
However, lots of people go through life situations that they have no choice about and are far more serious than running a long distance.
There are people living with what we call disabilities. Yet many of the people that I’ve met who have these issues do not see them as a disability. Of course, their situations are not ideal. But these challenges have made them who they are. By facing up to the things that suck in their life they have found greater strength and dedication than many of us who are far more privileged ever exhibit.
Keep on smiling
I believe that life is made better because things suck. All the things I listed at the beginning of this chapter as essential parts of daily life. We have to learn to deal with them or otherwise we’re doomed to spend our days being dissatisfied and depressed.
Joy is about finding strength in the parts of your life that suck but you cannot change. These are your diamonds in the rough. They are your hidden teachers and those which secretly hold the most promise. If there is one piece of advice I’d like you to leave this article with it’s that.
So here’s a big thumbs up to all the things that suck. Embrace them. Enjoy them. Learn from them. And don’t forget just how great they make your life.