Having a bad day is easy, and it starts from the moment you wake up. Your alarm disrupts you from your cool-ass dream, you're cranky, hungry, and don't want to go wherever you're supposed to be going. Then, breakfast is cold and underwhelming, you're stuck in traffic because a family of deer won't get out of the road, and you spend a monotonous day cleaning out your inbox and complaining with your coworkers about the bad office coffee. For happy hour, you meet an acquaintance for drinks and after fifteen minutes of catch up, you've both run out of things to talk about. Then you go home, sleep, and start the whole thing over again. Sounds pretty miserable. But it doesn't have to be.
There are a number of factors that can turn your day sour before it even starts.
Expectations and preconceived notions
The simplest example I can think of is one that we've probably all experienced (or at least, those of us that believe in vaccinations). Every year, when we all supposedly get the flu shot, our initial expectation is that it's going to hurt. Now, this expectation is founded on some evidence; we all know that needles are scary and they hurt. Every time I used to get a shot, I watched everything that happened (the gloves, the alcohol wipe, the drawing of the syringe). I would tense up just as the needle was about to break the skin, and it always ended up super painful and traumatic. A nurse or pharmacy technician always tells me to relax my arm and it will hurt less. And guess what? Once I did that, and stopped anticipating the sting of the needle, it actually did hurt a lot less. The mind is an extremely powerful entity, and it can influence the actual outcome of an event without physical interference.
These are the tricky patterns our mind employs without us even knowing it! Think of a negative script like a kind of postmodern play where every character is a curmudgeon and meanie. It would go a little something like this:
Curmudgeon: It's too hot in here!
Meanie: Everyone sucks!
Curmudgeon: Why is the bus always so late?
Meanie: I hate everyone!
Yeesh. That play is not winning any awards I know of. A negative script includes the little silent judgments you make to yourself while walking down the street, sitting in a coffee shop, or waiting in line for something. They're observations tainted by bias. We are human, and therefore we are biased. And unfortunately, most of us find it difficult to approach a situation free of judgment, even if we're not speaking our mind. Just thinking a negative thought can be as significant on our attitudes as saying it. Most of us hold ourselves back from insulting everyone around us, but we have to exercise that same self-control over our thoughts, and view life from a neutral observer's point of view.
Hyperbolic reactions to spontaneous external events
Any conscious person knows that there are things that happen in life that are beyond our control. People show up late, parties get busted up, and our filet mignon needs to be sent back for longer cooking. None of these things are emergencies, and should not be treated as such. As a species, we tend to overexaggerate the inconveniences of our life in order to stir up drama or self-importance. But the tell-tale sign of someone asking for a bad day is if they allow unplanned-for external happenings to interfere with internal stasis. We need to think of our internal state as static: always happy. And barring tragedies on the scale of family deaths, job loss, or natural disaster, we should imagine ourselves like a boulder on a shore, able to withstand any wave, no matter how powerful.
Teaming up with chronically angry people
Fact: the world is filled with curmudgeons and meanies. But those aren't the worst of them. There are also killers, abusers, and tyrants. Anger issues can come in a variety of forms, some more visible than others. An angry person is not just one who screams and shouts, but it could also be someone who's depressed and withdrawn. The most common group of chronically angry people might be your family, or your coworkers. I'm not saying to leave them in the dust, just don't indulge in the complaining. It's sometimes fun to commiserate, but that can quickly turn into bashing and trashing. Your best option is to change the subject, to deflect from the negativity with a compliment. It's also wise to avoid "stray-cat syndrome," which I liken to taking in a broken friend that quickly turns into a parasite by taking advantage of your friendship.
Using negative or unclear language
Words like "unfortunately," "sorry," and "disappointed" are pretty popular in the American lexicon. We sometimes use them more than we're even aware we do. But negative language can also be more subtle. Just a simple "but" or "though" can twinge otherwise positive sentences with negativity. Even phrases such as "I don't know" lack energy and purpose. Any language that allows you to make an excuse or get out of a situation is likely keeping things in the negative.
Here's what you need to do to have a good day. And then another. And then another.
Say some important goodbyes and hellos
Someone will judge you by the people with whom you hang out. Even if you've known someone for years, if they don't bring you up and make you feel good about yourself, you have to cut the cord. It may seem cruel to say goodbye, but your personal health is at stake. A negative person will likely stay that way, unless everyone they like drops them and they know they need to make a change. Much like enabling an addict by providing them a means to shoot up, you are enabling a negative person by listening to their complaints and fueling them. You shouldn't be friends with someone solely because you feel bad for them. They may want to turn that anguish to a therapist. A friendship should not be a therapy session. At the same time, you need to replace those negative influences with positive ones. Associate yourself with people that you admire, that make you laugh, that are intelligent, inquisitive, and ambitious. They will inspire you to be a better version of yourself.
Start the day with your symbol of happiness
It's a common misconception that no one likes waking up in the morning. Back in the day, my first conscious thought was always a negative one. It was about how much I had to do that day, and how much I didn't want to do it. But I find that taking a few seconds to think about a beautiful memory, my favorite food, or even looking at a pretty picture can automatically soothe my worrisome brain. I keep a jar of dried lavender on my bedside table to cheer me up. Find something you like, and make it your symbol of happiness!
Move your body and be silly
Being sedentary can make us bored and uninspired. But, I know, the gym is not always the most fun place to be. I suggest taking a little time to be silly. Practice some killer dance moves in the privacy of your own bedroom. Do the worm. Jump up and down like a maniac. Whatever it takes to get you to laugh at yourself, even if just a little bit. It's important to be self-deprecating and not take yourself too seriously. A little silliness never hurt anybody.
Revel in your autonomy
Remember that you are not stuck anywhere in life. If something in your life continually gives you stress and anxiety, quit it. It's okay. You don't have to feel guilty for quitting something that raises your blood pressure. The great thing about life is that for those of us fortunate enough, it is malleable and dynamic. If one bridge is crumbling, it's time to jump in the water and swim! We are only limited by our own curiosities. Autonomy is the ability to choose our path to happiness. Replace the activity that caused you stress with something that frees you. Be creative and have an open mind.
Schedule time to indulge in your passion
We're all busy, and if we're lucky, we get a moment or two to update our statuses or get a tweet out at our lunch break. But rarely do we give ourselves the pleasure of indulging in a passion. This can be as simple as reading a book, or as complicated as scaling a mountain. My passion is journaling, and every morning at 5am, I schedule an hour to write in my journal. It's a commitment I've made to myself as important as eating breakfast or getting daily exercise. Making these small commitments can help you feel grounded and focused. That's you-time, and no one else can get in the way of it.
Kindness is a huge concept that can be simplified in a few very easy acts. One is by giving compliments. A genuine compliment is an easy way to brighten anyone's day, but it can also brighten yours. Much like giving a gift, which always makes both parties feel the warm-fuzzies, a compliment is just as effective (and free!). Another way to show kindness is to do something charitable. Donate food, help someone out with an assignment, visit a hospital. The payoff is even greater than the effort it takes to do it.
Those people that always seem to be having a good day are not magical. They actively weed out the negativities that are bringing them down, and replace them with uplifting thoughts and people. Being positive is not possible with the flip of a switch. It requires a commitment to the practice of altering your mindset to remain constant despite what may happen in the outside world. We're all capable of having a better day. It's up to us to believe it.