1) Take a Look Around
Guess what? Your life isn’t that bad. If you’re reading this, then you have access to a computer and the internet. You know who doesn’t? Millions of people around the world. Things could be worse…
A little while ago, while I was in the midst of a little self pity, I read “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch. It’s a rather moving tale about a guy who, at the age of 46 and with a wife and three kids, gets a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. The story has some great life lessons, but one of my biggest takeaways was not one Randy explicitly states in the book. I thought to myself, “wow, my life seems bad, but jeez, at least I don’t have pancreatic cancer.” Sounds a bit callous, but I have a feeling Randy would have approved.
There are real tragedies that can hit you. However, so much of the time people waste on being depressed is not about real tragedies. It’s about stuff that ultimately doesn’t matter. Ironically, most of the people I know who did face real tragedies faced those with their chins up and made the best of it. Life is weird that way…
The next time you feel down about something insignificant, take a look around. There are a lot of people a lot worse off than you who are making the best of it. Follow their example and be happy with what you do have.
2) Time Travel to “Someday”
Look, you know for a fact that in a couple of months you are going to look back on what you are going through right now and laugh at yourself for how stupidly you overreacted. It’s a fact. You’ve probably already said, “someday we’re going to look back on this and laugh.” You also know your friends and family are most likely already making fun of you about it.
Skip the mourning period and start laughing about it now. Just imagine that it is “someday” and think about what the future you would say about it to the present you. I doubt future you would say soothing words like, “there, there, it’ll all be all right.” No, future you would say, “hey dumbass! Stop whining. Life is too short and he/she/it/whatever you’re crying about isn’t worth it.” If it helps, picture “future you” as a Terminator speaking to you in a Austrian accent; all things sound funnier when said by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
You don’t need to share it with anyone else, but a little self-mockery can get you laughing and give you some much needed perspective.
3) Guffaw, Even If For No Reason
Do this one in private, or you might end up in a sanitarium, but definitely give it a try. Give it a whirl now: just let out a big laugh. Not just a chuckle, but a long sustained, hearty guffaw.
I know it feels goofy, but I bet it also made you feel just a tinge better, right? I don’t fully understand the physiological or neurological reasons why, but I do know that the act of laughing will lighten your mood.
The wimpier version of this is to simply smile rather than laughing. That works too, and is a little easier to do in public.
Gallagher was a comedian who told some very bad jokes, but for some unknown reason was immensely successful. It may have had something to do with the fact that a big part of his act was smashing fruit with a giant sledgehammer. I am not suggesting you smash watermelons (though really, I don’t see how that wouldn’t lift your mood), but I am suggesting that you try to make your own humor, even when you don’t feel like it.
Here’s a fact: in order to make jokes, you have to look for humor in the world. When you look for humor in the world, you find humor in the world. When you find humor in the world, you take the first steps towards laughing instead of crying.
When you’re down, commit to looking for the humor. A simple way to do that is to get in the habit of asking yourself, “what’s funny about this?” You won’t always come up with an answer, but you will be training your mind to look for the funny.
Like Gallagher, you don’t need to be all that funny to be successful. Just make the jokes, and the laughs will come.
5) Jump Into A Big Pile Of “Ha Ha”
What’s weird is the extent to which people who are feeling down like to do things to stay down. They watch weepy movies, stare at depressing photographs, and listen to depressing music like Morrissey and Coldplay. When you’re in the middle of it, this sounds like a brilliant plan, but any outside observer could easily tell you that you are just feeding into a downward spiral.
Break out of that spiral by switching to fun and funny things. Watch funny movies and TV shows. Hang out with funny people. Listen to stand up comics. The nice thing is you can usually find comedians, movies, and TV shows that make light of what you are going through. This offers a nice perspective shift that you may not even realize.
If you’re unwilling to completely leave behind the depressing material, start with those weird hybrid movies that start out funny and then get serious halfway through. To the average movie-goer, those movies are annoying; to a person looking to come out of a self-pitying spiral, they can really fit the bill.
+++Throw a Hissy Fit
Let’s say that you are unsuccessful at using the simple techniques above to switch from crying to laughing. In that case, stop trying to be so mature and go ahead and throw a tantrum. Do it safely, and in private, but do what you need to get the emotion out.
There are many ways you can do this: rant and rave (to no one), write a vitriolic letter (which you never send), beat the heck out of a punching bag (my personal favorite), etc. Notice how you do not throw a physical or verbal tantrum at the object of your anger; you simply do what you need to get it out of your system.
Years ago I was in the middle of a month long self-pity party. When I decided it was time to get out of it I hopped on a treadmill. The thing is, I hate running and am not that great at it. If I can keep running for 20 minutes or a mile and a half, I consider that impressive. This day I turned on the treadmill, started running, and channeled all my emotion into that run. More than 45 minutes and three miles later I stopped, exhausted, and feeling better than I had in weeks. There is something very cathartic about channeling your emotion into a physical activity.
Be careful that you don’t do something stupid and hurt yourself, but give it a try. When you’re done, take a shower and watch a funny movie…
The next time you are wallowing in unnecessary sadness, try one or more of these techniques. In every moment of every day, you have a choice: laugh or cry, and life is way too short to spend it crying…