It’s going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
You know those days? The ones that evoke the feeling conjured up by the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. Likely you too have had the kind of day where you felt like your teacher didn’t like your “invisible castle” picture, the dentist told you you have a cavity and then you had to wear your railroad train pyjamas to bed.
Turns out, rather than denying those down days, we should actually embrace them. So says Dr. Russ Harris, the Australian author of The Happiness Trap. So I had to ask him a few questions about why we don’t always need to be happy.
Q: You compare our happiness and feelings to the weather—what do you mean?
A: Even for those people whose lives seem blessed, they still have to deal with the pain of loss, illness, injury, frustration, disappointment, aging, conflict, rejection and death. That means the natural state for humans is not happiness, or feeling good. Instead, our feelings are like the weather and continually changing: at times very pleasant, at other times extremely unpleasant.
Q: So if we’re having a bad day should we try to “turn things around” to feel better?
A: Coming back to weather, we know we can’t control the weather, so we don’t try to. We let the weather do what it does and we change our clothes to adapt. But when it comes to emotions and feelings, we often try very hard to control our feelings. And this is quite natural to do this–after all, everyone wants to feel good, and no one wants to feel bad.
Q: What kinds of things do we do to try and feel better?
A: We use quick fixes of “feel good” activities – from cigarettes, chocolate, and alcohol, to TV, computer games, or shopping. And many of these things do give us some good feelings for a little while. But how long do those feelings last? And what does it cost you when you start to use these “feel good” strategies excessively or inappropriately? Do these things give you a rich, full and meaningful life in the long term?
Q: So what should we do instead?
A: The more we can accept this reality of bad feelings once in awhile, the more we are free to live the life we want. Instead of wasting energy trying to control how we feel, we can channel that energy into effective action, so doing things to improve our life for the better. So next time your feelings are running rampant, you might like to gently acknowledge this and maybe say, “Hmmm. Looks like bad weather today.” Doing this helps you to remember that you’re like the sky, and your feelings are like the weather. No matter how bad the weather, the sky cannot be harmed by it – and sooner or later, the weather always changes.