Getting the most out of life when it sucks

  • Someday Lesson: If you strive to always be happy, you cut out at least half of life’s experiences.

Last November I started writing my novel but then a few weeks into it, I stopped, completely block. And I had no idea why. All I knew was I couldn’t write any more, so I didn’t push it.

Flash forward to two weeks ago where I finally figured it out: I had no conflict happening in the middle of the novel. Of course I couldn’t write it. Novels need conflict – readers need to feel that something important is at stake or there’s nothing interesting to read.

And yet in real life, everyone wants to live in a conflict-free HappyLand of their own making.

Why? Why is conflict and struggle important in fiction but something to be avoided in real life?

In yesterday’s Someday Interview, Hunter Nuttall compared drowning in happiness to drinking ourselves into a stupor every day. I loved that idea. I even tagged the post with suckiness for the first time on my blog because this idea of life needing to have its sucky moments struck me as hugely important.

Being a dramatic person I enjoy every emotion I’ve ever felt. Like most people, I’ve had my share of low points as well as high and mediocre points. And I’ve let myself feel every single one of them fully. The worst times in my life haven’t been when I’ve hit a low point – but when I lived with the autopilot turned on.

Is it possible to enjoy negative emotions? Hell yes! When a boyfriend cheated on me, I decided to be bitter and I explored bitterness from beginning to end, until I (and everyone around me) had had enough of it.

Then there was the period where I’d been (wrongly) diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Some days I chose to savour the pain, lack of energy and hopelessness. Since I lived with the pain on a daily basis, to deny it meant denying my existence. The pain was a part of who I was at that time.

Yes, I usually put on a brave smile and went on living, but sometimes I gave myself permission to feel like complete and utter crap.

I enjoyed it.

One definition for enjoy is: to have and use with satisfaction; have the benefit of.

I am a human being with a full range of emotions. I have the benefit of experiencing them all and making my life complete. By refusing to have and use negative emotions, I limited my life by at least half.

My negative emotions often spur me on to happier states. When I realize that I’m in a negative place, I look for ways to turn the negative viewpoints around (as I did last week about my writing). I don’t suppress them – I welcome them because they teach me something new about myself.

As the Roman writer Petronius said: Moderation in all things, including moderation.

P.S. In completely non-sucky news, my novel An Extraordinarily Ordinary Life made it to the quarterfinals in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest (top 500 of 10,000). April 15th I’ll find out if I make it to the semifinals.

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22 thoughts on “Getting the most out of life when it sucks

  1. This was a great thing to read today – and I just needed it right now.

    Joely Black (@TheCharmQuark on Twitter)´s last blog post..Does my ego look big in this post?

  2. Very interesting viewpoint. One other thing is very important in this context. You cannot enjoy the good, without experiencing the bad. The sweetness of your success is measured by the bitterness of your failures.

    Stephen – Rat Race Trap´s last blog post..Top 10 Ways To Stop Killing Yourself With Choices

  3. I’m all for feeling and acknowledging my negative emotions – they’re great teachers.

    Congrats on making it to the quarterfinals!

    Laurie | Express Yourself to Success´s last blog post..Good Reads: Happiness

  4. David S. says:

    Good point! Some days things indeed don’t go well, and it usually works out best when I succumb to the situation temporarily, realizing it will pass, instead of trying to push through and be upbeat anyway. I usually do feel better the next day, and am that much more grateful when it happens!

  5. Andy Hayes says:

    Boy you just get more fabulous by the day – I had no idea about the novel. Well done!

    I think you can’t fully appreciate happiness unless you understand what’s going on with the other side of the coin.

    Andy Hayes´s last blog post..Life Imitates Art: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged

  6. Hi Alex,
    You’re right you do indeed need some “suckiness” in your life it’s how you get to appreciate the good times. Also, without the challenges you can potentially lose focus of how badly you want what’s on the other side.

    I like the thought of welcoming the feelings of pain, lack of energy and hopelessness and really *feeling* them. It’s important though to be able to let those feelings go as soon as you can and move forward – don’t dwell. Like you say look for things to be positive about.

    Congratulations on making it to the quarterfinals with your book. Best of luck making it to the semifinals!

    Sherri (Serene Journey)´s last blog post..Love Is A Verb

  7. Kelly says:


    I loved Hunter’s idea of embracing the big suck (if that’s the stage you’re in). I think a lot of us have been there but it’s so hard to admit to.

    As I say to my daughter when she’s having “a mood” and conflicted about it, Relax. How will you know the happy times if you don’t plow right on through the sad ones?

    (We’re both excellent at recognizing the happy times, lol.)

    A huge hip-hip-HOORAY about your novel!!!



    Kelly´s last blog post..MCE Round Table: Tell Me a Story…

  8. steph says:

    Alex, congratulations!!! I’m very excited for you and I hope you hear great news about your book reaching the semis. Woohoo!!

    On embracing all range of your emotions rather than trying to block them or pretend they don’t exist so you can always put on a cheery face, I say hooray! Emotions are like symptoms: they tell you what’s really going on. Addressing what’s really going on is one way we grow.

    steph´s last blog post..Running for Peace of Mind

  9. Iain Broome says:

    Writing my novel was one of the most difficult, emotional rollercoaster rides I’ve ever been on. It was at times wonderful, at others just awful. And I mean really rubbish. It can be demoralising and health-threatening – I lost a stone and a half trying to complete it in time for a deadline. But stick with it. Persist. It feels like such an achievement when you’ve finished, whether you get published or not.

    Iain Broome´s last blog post..Free e-book – ‘The academic eccentricity: creative writing in the classroom’

  10. Alex Fayle says:

    Always glad to help – speaking of which – need to get you writing this month’s guest post…

    While I can understand the viewpoint, I don’t actually see them as opposites. It’s more like a colour-wheel. To skip out on an emotion – any one – is like chosing not to see a colour (and to extend the analogy – just as some people are colourblind to various degrees and must adapt, some people are blind to certain emotions).

    It’s true. I’ve learned more from being sad than I ever have from pursuing happiness.

    @David S
    I too feel better when I let myself feel the negativity (and sometimes have a good cry) – then I’m full of energy and ready to charge.

    *blush* 😉 Thanks!

    Not dwelling is the key part. Experience, savour, learn from, but don’t dwell. Dwelling is stagnant.

    I like your advice of “relax” – that’s exactly it. Relax and let the sh*t roll by.

    Very true – ignoring emotions is like ignoring symptoms – the result produces a misdiagnosis.

    That’s exactly how I felt during the first novel. I thought the second would be easier because I’d already gone through it but if anything it’s been worse because I’d upped my expectations of myself.

  11. That’s great news about the novel, Alex. Congratulations! Best 500 of 10,000 is pretty good for now. And I agree about needing negative contrast in life to help you appreciate the good stuff. If there’s no bad, then there’s no good, just blah. And what’s fun about that?


    Kelly@SHE-POWER´s last blog post..What’s the Secret to Enduring Friendships?

  12. Alex, This is such an awesome article! It’s the conflict and the pain and the just plain ick that (sometimes) makes life so grand. I’ve never been able to get myself out of a funk by “feeling grateful it’s not worse,” but embracing the feeling almost always works like a charm and I can move on a lot faster. If you’ve got a lot of disappointment or frustration or bitterness or pain to wallow in, why not wallow in it?

    I was just rejected from my #1 pick for an MFA, and my first thought was to be “mature” about it all and not let it bother me and then I realized, pretending I wasn’t disappointed was just plain silly. Sure, I’d already realized I probably didn’t want to go back to school next year, but it still sucked that they didn’t want me. It’s a minor example, but processing it helped me feel a lot clearer about why I was disappointed and what I need to add into my life.

    Anyway, it’s really nice to read about someone else thinking 24/7 happiness isn’t necessarily the supreme goal. I missed Hunter’s interview–sounds like I’ll have to go back and read it!

    And congrats on making the quarterfinals! That’s tremendously good news.

    Jessica @ThriveYourTribe´s last blog post..Free Teleseminar: 7 Strategies for Profitable Blogs and Ezines

  13. Patricia says:

    Congratulations on the novel award! Hip Hip Hurrah! I have my eyes and fingers crossed for you that you make it into the next round.

    Karl Jung said that one whole segment – one quarter – of society leads life with their emotions – it was so freeing to learn that and to stop trying to be emotionally controlled and restricted, but to learn to use them to full advantage. Life is so much better when it is full rather than repressed.

    Nice words guy! I liked your post very much today.

    Patricia´s last blog post..Announcing a Writing Contest – With a Financial Incentive!

  14. […] I said on Tuesday, our negative emotions often spur us on towards action. This especially happens when we look […]

  15. Alex Fayle says:

    Thanks for the novel support everyone! I have my fingers crossed for the next level.

    I think that’s what people complain about drugs like Prozac – yeah the lows don’t exist but neither do the highs – everything is just m’eh.

    Great reaction to the MFA disappointment. Yes, it was a disappointment so of course you feel bad. My family being Tiggers by nature bounce right back and say things like “oh but now I can…” I’ve learned to allow myself to be upset before bouncing.

    Coming from a traditional British/Canadian background all the wild emotions (good/bad) weren’t so much repressed as controlled. I’ve always been attracted to the southern European cultures for their explosions about everything. I’ve found a nice balance here in Northern Spain.

  16. Congratulations on making it to the quarter finals!

    Janet Barclay´s last blog post..The Trouble with Email

  17. Z says:

    Just so you know, a key Zoroastrian principle is Moderation too.. 😛

  18. Alex Fayle says:

    That’s very cool – I love when my ideas line up with existing belief systems – it makes explaining them that much easier. 😉

  19. […] Getting the most out of life when it sucks ( […]

  20. Thanks for the moderation quote, Alex. I’ve been saying that for years without knowing that it was famously coined by Petronius so long ago. Now I can add it to my extensive list of favorite quotations.

    Whenever I’m justifiably upset about something and someone (well-intentioned) tells me not to be angry or sad or frustrated or whatever… I always say that it seems like the PERFECT occasion for being upset, if ever there was one, and that what would be the point of having the capacity for such an emotion if it weren’t meant to be experienced.

    Are you running any type of promotional campaign to solicit supportive reviews/editorials of your story from your many fans? Lots of good comments about your work on Amazon. How cool is THAT?

    Denise Fisher´s last blog post..Wardrobe Organization By The Numbers – The 28-Outfit Seasonal Collection

  21. Alex Fayle says:

    Exactly – why have emotions if we can’t have fun with them? (even the “negative” ones).

    As for the novel, I’m not doing a campaign because the public reviews don’t count for anything – it’s not a popularity contest. The real weight in the judging consists of reviews by Publishers Weekly and the two existing Amazon Expert reviews. And yes, all the good comments are super-cool!

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