I really am.
The fact that you’re reading this article means that you’re probably not in a good place. I’m sorry, because at times I’ve known that place intimately, and it can suck. And I’m sorry that you have to ask such a tough question – a very important question to ask – but very difficult nonetheless. It’s the question that might have been on your mind for a while; the one drove you to this article.
Why do I hate my life?
It’s the 21st century, so naturally, you’re looking to the internet for an answer. But what you really want isn’t an answer. Every question we ask is driven by a feeling, most of the time what we might consider ‘negative’ like discomfort or pain, but sometimes ‘positive’ feelings, like pleasure and joy. So what you truly want is another feeling. The feeling of hope – of energy and of optimism. The feeling of NOT hating your life.
I’m going to try and give you an answer to the question, but more importantly, I’m also going to try and give you an understanding that makes you feel better. Because right now as I’m typing this, I don’t hate my life.
It’s a peaceful morning. I’m sitting in a comfortable office space, I have a coffee in my hand, I’ve been to the gym and I’ve got some nice music coming through my headphones. It’s pretty good. Actually, I love it – not every single day mind you – but enough to be incredibly grateful that I’ve made it through the times when I hated it.
It’s kind of incredible in the scheme of things. I’ve had many days in the last ten years in which that question you’re asking right now has come to mind. It’s been confusing, dizzying even, at times I’ve felt absolutely depressed of energy, sometimes even physically ill.
But I’m sitting here right now, and I don’t feel like that. So I’m hoping that if you read this article thoroughly, if you get through today, and if you start to implement some of the things I’ll talk about here then things will change. Slowly, but surely, that gut-wrenching sensation you have right now will dissolve, and you’ll look back and think “oh, how weird, that sh*tty feeling I had isn’t there anymore.”
So let me help you answer that question: why do I hate my life?
You don’t hate your life; you hate how you feel in this moment
Hate is a strange emotion because it’s so powerful that it’s almost magnetic. It feels fundamental, but it’s actually kind of secondary. In psychoanalysis, hate is one of two cathexis emotions (the other being love). Both love and hate involve investing energy towards something: a person, object, or idea.
In this sense hate is typically a meta-emotion: an emotion about an emotion. When we hate something, it’s usually a response to another feeling we have. When we hate our lives, it’s because we don’t feel good in our lives.
Often the emotions we experience are a reaction to our life circumstances, but also, very often they are not. So I want to propose that you don’t hate your life as a whole. You could probably find a few things right now that are worth being grateful for: relative health, family members, food and water, a bed to sleep in.
But within your life, you have feelings that are strong enough to make you think “I really hate my life right now.” Maybe you hate being confused, or scared, or not having the freedom you would like. Maybe it’s not feeling enough security, approval, control or connection.
Whatever it is, let’s just run with the idea that you don’t hate all of “your life” but you do have a number of feelings that you’re experiencing in your life at this moment in time that cause feelings of hate to surface. That’s fine, because from that point you can learn to see what feeling is causing you to believe that you hate your entire life – and then you can start to work on better managing the ideas and emotions that are the underlying theme.
There is a lot of work to do, but that’s great because when you’ve got something to work on, you’ve got hope!
Your expectations don’t match reality
When you reflect on your life, it’s important that you recognise something. We’re part of the generation that has the highest expectations in human history. Anyone from the past would probably call us entitled. But because we only compare ourselves to people we see around us now, it’s almost inevitable that we become disheartened about our situations.
On top of that, our expectations are entirely distorted by social media. We see the lives of others filtered (literally) through a lense of perfect experiences, and we’re almost completely blind to the real depth of their life – the good and the bad.
Many of us are also walking around with a whole network of conflicting expectations. We have those which have been set by others; our parents, our teachers, our society – and those that have been set by our selves – both past and present. If you took a good hard look at your mind, you’d realise that you’re likely still frustrated that you don’t have something that you don’t even want anymore!
That’s why it’s so important to consider our expectations, think about how they may not be meeting our experience, and to constantly reevaluate them in order to diffuse any unnecessary inner conflict.
So what happens when our expectations don’t match our reality?
Typically two things; we become fearful, or we become angry – or both. From a neurological perspective, our limbic system tends to go into overdrive, our frontal lobes (rational thinking) shuts down and we become closed off to new ideas and information. From a psychoanalytic perspective, a little bit of chaos has been brought into our lives, and its call into question the assumptions that we were (figuratively) standing on – and now we’re on shaky ground.
We see this on a microscale every day when someone gets cut off in traffic. Their brains had predicted that they were going forward, and the plan was thwarted when someone pulled out in front of them. And what happens next? Road rage!
Think about what happens when you fight with your partner or family. For example, you start by imagining the dinner you’re going to have, you start to build anticipation and excitement. But when you get there, your partner’s in a bad mood from something that happened at work. This has nothing to do with you, or the imaginary dinner you played on repeat in your head all day. But all of a sudden, anger comes forward. “Why are you always so moody!?” you exclaim. You’re not angry at your partner – in fact, if you’d known they were going to be in a bad mood in advance it would’ve been fine. You’re angry at the fact that your ideas about the dinner weren’t meeting the reality.
The same thing happens when you have expectations about your life; what job you want, what school you want to go to, who you want to be with etc.
The feeling of you hating your life in this moment is very much linked to the fact that at some point, expectations haven’t been met.
You’re not who you thought you were
This is the most important example of expectations not matching your reality. Our self-perception is the construct that is most intimately tied to our emotions, so when it is challenged in a big way, we can feel pretty terrible. They say don’t talk about religions or politics on a first date, and this is why. Religion and politics often form a core part of our self-construct, so when they’re challenged fear and anger often ensue.
About eight years ago I went through a process where I realised I wasn’t aligned with the person I wanted to be or the life I want to live. It was tough, really tough. In fact, it was absolutely crushing. But without that realisation, I would still be that person, in that place, and I would still be unconsciously resenting my life.
There is a tremendous cathartic benefit in looking at where your ideas about yourself are being challenged by experience. Like I said, it’s rough, but in the long run it will allow you to start to see more clearly why you don’t feel ok with your life.
You’ve lost perspective because you’re exhausted
When you feel good about your life, you don’t tend to think about it. When you feel bad about your life, you tend to think about it a lot. That’s mainly because our brains evolved a negativity bias as a survival mechanism, 50,000 years ago, ‘bad’ things could get us killed.
But there’s a not-so-nice side effect of this, all this rumination about the state of our lives leaves our minds exhausted. What’s more, a tired mind is a very ineffective mind. It’s even come that we may start to become paranoid.
There are a lot of things that can make you love your life. But to recognise them requires the right attitude and the right attention. Unfortunately, the more we become emotionally drained, the more we begin to lose sight of these things. That also tends to work in a nasty feedback loop because the more tired we are, the more we think about ourselves. This is because the area of the brain that is linked to self-referential thoughts – the Posterior Cingulate Cortex (PCC) – has been shown to be more active in those who are fatigued, as well as those who are depressed, suicidal or experiencing chronic pain.
Losing perspective simply means that you’re giving to much weight to one area of your life, and not enough credit to another. When you have four things going well, and one thing goes wrong, and you say that you hate your life – that’s an example of having lost perspective. It’s a very easy thing to do; everyone does it at some point. We often then see our inner-critic becoming more and more vocal, and we may even start to listen to what they say.
Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to re-orientate your attention and get some perspective back. Learning about the stories of others who have gone through hardships, getting out of your current environment, and focusing on things you should be grateful for, these are all examples of simple things that can shift your focus and put your life in perspective.
You don’t have an appropriate goal
Do you want to know the main thing that people get wrong about this whole goal setting thing? They mistakenly believe that their goal must have some ultimate importance. We’re also looking for the purest, most respectable, most motivational goal imaginable. And you know what, it’s utter bullsh*t! For two reasons:
No goal can have any ultimate importance. Goals are limited to time, so over time, the value of the goal will change. When you’re depressed, you can (and probably will) argue that any project or aim that you have set for yourself is worthless ‘in the scheme of things.’ And you would be right! – at least logically. Which leads to point number 2.
The point of a goal is in the action it takes to get to the goal. Most people take goals as a means to an end, but that’s not their purpose. The value in a goal is the moment to moment meaning that it inspires in you, not whether or not the fruits of the goal will outlive you (despite what ‘movers-and-shakers’ will tell you).
You want to create world peace, but that isn’t a useful goal. You want to write a best-selling book, but right now that isn’t a realistic goal. Maybe you should just write a paragraph that answers the question: what is the most honest thing you could say right now? That’s a good goal because what you need to do to work towards that goal is obvious, start with the first sentence.
A goal should inherently tell you what the next step to take is. Without an appropriate goal, you simply don’t know what to do. And not knowing what to do leads to confusion
You have aren’t connected to something greater than yourself (aka spiritual deficit)
When Friedrich Nietzsche said “God is dead” what he meant was the idea of God was dead. It was a somewhat prolific thing to say because although the materialist worldview has dominated thought for over a hundred years now, mainstream religion remained a staple part of Western culture for decades following Nietzsche’s statement.
But there is a problem with this. Many of us still need to feel connected to something greater than ourselves, and when we can’t find that in organised religion, we put ourselves at the centre of our beliefs and experience.
“It’s chaos, within order, within chaos, within higher order. The order that is most real is the order that is most unchanging – and that is not necessarily the order that is most easily seen. The leaf, when perceived, might blind the observer to the tree. The tree can blind him to the forest.” – Jordan Peterson.
When we constantly put our own egos at the centre, we become blinded to what is greater than us. When we are able to find what is greater than us, perceive it constantly, and to serve it in whatever way we see fit, then we won’t get caught up in ‘small’ thoughts like whether or not we are living up to ideals we see on Instagram.
A coherent philosophy or religion can help us to do this but we need not strictly follow an ancient scripture in order to cultivate this connection. Something greater than you can be found in nature, in art, in music, in philosophy or in work.
If you’re at a place in your life where you aren’t enjoying your experience, I hope you now understand that there’s a lot going on there and that there is still a lot to work on and a lot of hope.
I also want you to recognise that you’re not the only one who feels this way, I can’t stress this enough. Almost everyone goes through periods, some of us brief, others very long, where we don’t like our life.
No matter how alone you may feel in this situation, you’re truly not. Nothing is permanent, particularly what you’re feeling right now. Overcoming this situation, which with diligence and patience you inevitably can, will make the better days test that much sweeter.
“There is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is merely the comparison of one state to the other. Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss.” – Alexandre Dumas
Keep your eyes out for the next article where I’ll discuss what to do in order to manage and eliminate feelings of self-hate.
If this article resonated with you, I’d love to hear from you, post a comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.