Today shouldn’t suck
We often think that it is okay that today sucks.
Today is gray, boring, and gloomy but in the distant future, today will be different. After we get that new car, job, body, or relationship we’ve always dreamt of, we will be satisfied. It will be much better than the today we’re currently experiencing.
However, the mundane today is exactly the experience of our everyday lives.
Viewing today as boring and dreary often leads to one of the two extremes in behavior.
The first and more common are people who don't like to live the mundane life. They give in to instant gratifications like overeating, doing drugs, drinking alcohol, and procrastinating all the time. Life’s dull, why not have some instant fun?
Then there is the second group, they are much rarer than the first one.
They often think that their life has to suck now so it will be better in the future. They keep postponing living until it is too late.
Our view is simple: life's happening now and it shouldn't suck.
So what is the way out of this? Well, it is a matter of delicate balance.
Mundane life is okay
For most of human history, life was pretty mundane. People would try to survive, get enough food, and have a place to sleep. Only in the last few decades, people gained the possibility to live the “exciting life”.
Mundane life is something that is looked down upon and this is further aggravated by social media and pop culture in general.
In comparison to all the happy people on social media, life is boring. Your acquaintances are traveling all the time while you have to clock in and clock out at your job every day.
To add to that, advertising makes us believe that various products are what will finally bring us happiness.
In the movies and TV shows, the protagonists don’t experience everyday mundane lives. There isn’t a single show about people commuting every day for 60 minutes to get to work. Everything always happens quickly. Alfred Hitchcock once said that drama is life with the dull bits cut out.
Moreover, the Internet exploded the number of career possibilities, and the number of people who “made it” at a young age compared to previous generations. Cryptocurrencies, stock market, streamers, YouTubers, lifestyle businesses...
All these reasons lead us to think that mundane life is something bad and others don’t experience it. However, it’s the reality for almost everyone. Even the ones who “made it”.
When people try to avoid the mundane life, they eat too much, they procrastinate all the time, they intoxicate themselves with alcohol and drugs too often just to feel something interesting and novel.Yet, this doesn’t last long. The high of instant gratification fades quickly and then makes the mundane life seem even worse.
Realizing that most of life is mundane and that it’s okay is the first step towards not having to suffer through another day.
The second step is understanding that delayed gratification is a good tool, but a bad master.
Delayed gratification can lead to unhappiness
Delaying gratification is a generally desirable skill.
The people who can control themselves and don’t give in to instant gratification are usually successful and looked up to.
However, certain people go to extremes and totally forget about the gratification part. They always delay gratification. This makes their lives suck. Why?
They often think that their life has to suck now so it will be better in the future.
It’s based on the Puritan work ethic that was supposed to lead them to a great afterlife. You pay the heavy price now, to savor life (afterlife in their case) later.
Yes, they often get rewarded for their efforts but they realize that the satisfaction doesn’t last and they aren’t much happier.
This leads to people spend their 20’s and 30’s buried in work. Time passes quickly. They are considered workaholics. They keep postponing living, thinking there is a paradise after they hit a certain goal.
Even when they get what they wanted (car, job, enough money to not work ever again,...), it becomes the new standard quickly, and they forget that was something they wanted.
We think after we achieve something, we will be satisfied forever, but that's not true and we get used to it really quickly. This is called the hedonic treadmill which explains that we return to baseline happiness quickly.
How long did it take you to get used to your new phone?
That doesn’t mean we should throw effort and delayed gratification out of the window altogether. It can give one a lot of satisfaction:
One lesson I’ve learned is that if the job I do were easy, I wouldn’t derive so much satisfaction from it. The thrill of winning is in direct proportion to the effort I put in before. I also know, from long experience, that if you make an effort in training when you don’t especially feel like making it, the payoff is that you will win games when you are not feeling your best. That is how you win championships, that is what separates the great player from the merely good player. The difference lies in how well you’ve prepared.”
— Rafael Nadal in Rafa (p. 287)
Therefore there has to be a balance so one doesn’t postpone living.
Life can suck temporarily
Sometimes, life can suck more but it means that it will suck less in the future.
When you have an important project in front of you, it can suck.
Or let’s say you’re on a weight loss diet. The only way to achieve this is to be in a caloric deficit. This means that you have to eat less. If you decide to go for a bigger caloric deficit, your life may suck. You’re tired. But you do it so you’re not overweight anymore and have a better life. It’s much easier to adhere to your diet when you have an end goal in mind.
When you feel like your life sucks right now, ask yourself whether there is an end to it in sight.
If there is, grind your teeth and push through. Otherwise, perhaps try to enjoy today more.
How to enjoy today more
- Enjoy the process.
We talked about it here in depth. In summary, you want to be doing things you're good at, spending time in flow, and exploring and solving problems.
- Do more things that make you feel good.
All of the following suggestions increase your happiness and energy in the long run:
- Exercising regularly
- Sleeping well
- Socializing often
- Treat yourself.
Go brew yourself a good cup of tea, coffee. Plan a trip to someplace interesting. Pause, and enjoy the present moment (as cliche as it may sound). We wrote about how planning leisure can help you work more here.
- Try practicing gratitude.
Stopping for a moment and thinking about what you're grateful for is a scientifically proven way to increase your sense of happiness. It’s not a panacea but it can help.
- Reduce comparing yourself to others.
It takes a lot of self-control to stop comparing yourself to others. It’s easier to not have the choice at all. If you struggle with this, do a social media detox. I (Mat) personally deleted all social media a year ago and realized I don’t miss anything. I’m much calmer than ever before.
Most of our life is mundane and it is unavoidable. That doesn’t mean that life has to suck.
You don’t have to delay gratification forever and live like a monk. It’s okay to enjoy yourself sometimes. One of the most frequent regrets of people on their deathbed is working too much, and spending too little time with friends or family.
Instead, we can engage in activities that bring us pleasure and satisfaction on a daily basis, without causing pain in the long term. The best proven ways are working on interesting problems, doing things you’re good at, socializing, exercising, sleeping well, and being a little more grateful about things you already have.