Why Your Life Sucks So Bad

Why Your Life Sucks So Bad

“What’s the ugliest part of your body?…. I think it’s your MIND!”
–Frank Zappa

Since time immemorial, people across the world have been asking this question: “Why, when I have enough to eat, a place to live, and clothing to wear, does life still suck so damn bad?”  As soon as we stopped hunting and gathering and started having stable civilization, this question cropped up and has stuck with us ever since. Life sucks. Bad. Why??

There’s a simple answer, believe it or not.  The answer is, it’s not your life that sucks, it’s your mind that sucks.

It’s Your MIND That Sucks

Yes, your mind sucks. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great for things that it’s built to do, namely keep you from getting killed. That’s what minds are for, what they evolved to do over millions of years of evolutionary pressure. But what minds did NOT evolve to do is help you live a passionate, vibrant, satisfying life. They are uniquely crappy at that.

Life Sucks Because of Evolution

Picture this: You are a small animal. Maybe you’re some sort of proto-rabbit or lemur or something. And you’ve got, say 11 brothers and sisters. You’ve never been too relaxed, you’re more the type to be squirrely and tense, always on the alert for what bad things might happen. A couple of your sibs are pretty mellow, they enjoy nibbling on nuts and lying in the sun. Along comes a predator. Guess who’s the Lunch Special today, and guess who runs away and saves his/her skin? Guess who lives long enough to reproduce and pass along her/his genes to the next generation of small, furry animals? What kinds of genes does nature select for–happy genes? Not seeming like it.

Life Sucks Because Our Minds Are Survival Machines

Life sucks because we have a mind that evolved to save our skin and ensure that our genes were passed down to the next, sucky generation of people suffering with sucky minds. As soon as we had towns, as soon as we had reliable and safe living conditions, we noticed that our minds didn’t stop looking for things to worry about and torture us with. Why would our minds stop, just because our species happened to figure out how to eliminate most external threats? We’ve only been that safe for, maybe 10,000 years, whereas our nervous systems have evolved over millions of years, modified constantly through natural selection, under enormous pressure to improve survival rate. If our minds weren’t focused on survival, it would seem unlikely that I would be here to type and you would be here to read.

Life Sucks Because We Believe What Our Minds Tell Us

Though we are STRONGLY predisposed to f*** up our own lives by believing what our minds tell us — namely that threats are everywhere, and that nothing can be good enough — we actually have a choice as to whether we want to believe our minds. That’s right, you do NOT have to believe everything you think. The process of separating from the mind (not divorcing it, which would be impossible and undesirable since we still need to stay alive and calculate taxes), the process of coming to believe less and less of what our minds tell us, that’s the process we call mindfulness. Mindfulness is a whacky term really, because what we’re really talking about has more to do with paying attention to the body and other aspects of our experience that are ACTUALLY happening, as opposed to what the mind is going on about, which only bears some vague relationship to reality, and often is focused on stuff that’s not in any way, shape or form happening.

Mindfulness Gives Us a Choice

When we practice mindfulness, we take responsibility for noticing a choice that we all generally ignore, mostly by habit. Namely, we have a choice to direct our attention to actionable questions that have to do with our values, rather than inactionable questions that have to do with physical or metaphorical survival and/or avoiding suffering. “What shall I spend my time on that is worthwhile to me?” is an actionable question connected with values, with real meaning in life. “Why am I so stupid?” is an inactionable question connected with our sucky mind that is focused on the futile search for safety from suffering.

What have you noticed about your mind and its helpfulness in living well?

Do you manage to live fully and vibrantly WITH a sucky mind, and despite it?

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Joseph Rhinewine, PhD. People collaborate with me to live life fully: with principle, passion and vigor. My expertise is providing and teaching Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an evidence-based, experiential and relational behavior therapy. I also apply Acceptance and Commitment processes to coaching those who wish to take their lives to a new level.

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  • Chris

    Well said! My definition of mindfulness: A detached awareness of your own thoughts

    • Thanks Chris! I like that definition. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, that is 1 of 4 mindfulness processes, but in some ways it is the most fundamental. The other 3 processes are: Present-Moment (attention to sensations, physical stimuli that are present), Willingness (to experience unpleasant as well as pleasant sensations, emotions and thoughts), and Self-As-Context, or awareness of the Observer Self that is not identified with the thoughts and feelings. I give a quick talk on each in a series of youtube videos, for example, http://bit.ly/14GHvos

      • Chris

        Thanks for the info!

  • Great post Joe. I like to remind myself: “Mind over matter. If your don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Summary of your post. 😉

  • If you liked the post, you’ll LOVE the video!!

    On Why Life Sucks: Wanting to have cake and eat it too (and other metaphors) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rd4P74E0eeM

    • Not only does your mind need to be focused, you have to reverse and re-wire your emotional responses to triggers. Even when you try to get mindful of being aware that you are being negative about something, you have trained your body to emotionally respond to things in a certain way, so it takes time to say NO to those negative feelings (anger, resentment, jealousy, insecurity, etc.) in order to reprogram your body and brain to “think differently”. being mindful of your thought processes is the initial step, the hard part is the full change into a happier person.

      • Sean – I’m curious about the notion that “saying no” to your feelings leads to “reprogramming” your brain and body….. I would say that is not what I find to be true in research on emotional problems, nor in my clinical practice, nor in my life. Could the quest for “happiness” be something of a trap? see http://www.thehappinesstrap.com

        • My comments are on a basic principle of overcoming bad habits by mindfully realizing there is a emotional component that has a physical reaction that can be addicted to being in that state of mind. I am just saying that you could be tired of being angry and want to change, but the physical component will take more time to get on board without going into all of the details surrounding it. We all are creating and experiencing our own realities. I also believe, thoughts become things.

          • that matches my experience. there’s a “languaging” issue often at work in this kind of discussion. Surely you do not embrace denying feelings — yet, there is an initial reaction, genuine and true, but not necessarily one you’d want to base your behavior upon. So then the challenge is to feel the reaction, and then choose a response that fits your values, not the first impulse. Sounds like that’s what you’re talking about. Maybe a good topic for a post here!

          • Yes, the first “impulse” is what I was getting at. We can can go into a long conversation about it, but I would rather you blog about it. 😉

  • pam lewis

    negativity bias!

    • Pam — if I understand what you’re saying, I agree — we are biased to notice the negative, and ignore the positive. Was that what you meant?

  • God’sabandonus

    To keep it short I’ll just say this. The world sucks because our minds suck. We have let ourselves be led to materialism or religion which is materialism in disguise making us to not feel good enough.

    That is why we have muslim terrorists because they feel they are not good enough unless they destory their enemy like the 1993 World Trade Center bombing via truck bomb which the mastermind Ramzi Yousef was arrested for. He wanted to topple the towers onto each other to kill over 50,000 people………….but the bomb failed to do it but still 6 people were killed and a hundred were injured.

    The sad thing is there are interviews that show the FBI actually provided the suspects the bomb materials to allow it to happen and the FBI joking about how the towers failed to collapse but the terrorist said they’ll be back for more.

    People like Ramzi with truck bombs to topple skyscrapers have minds that suck. The truck driver Salameh’s mind sucked so much that he got arrested by claiming his truck was stolen and went to collect his deposit in which he went right into the hands of the FBI at the truck rental agency in New Jersey on March 4th a week after the terrorist attack.

    Bill Clinton did not treat the terrorist attack seriously which allowed other terrorist wannabees try other tactics over the following years. He has not done a single thing to stop terrorism or even arrested those responsible when he had the opportunity but don’t let facts get in the way of people’s favorite guy.

    • Thanks for your post. I quite agree with you that religion is often materialism in disguise (some have spoken of ‘spiritual materialism’). When people treat religion as an ego-contest we get terrorism, crusades, and other horrors. And still, it has ever been so in world history, and we always have the option to accept what cannot be changed and commit to acting on our values. Unless terrorists are actually present to you (you see them in person with your eyes, etc) then we’re talking about more thoughts, which may or may not be thoughts that are useful to you.