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Why Does Life Suck Even When You Try to Make it Better?

Danielle Dahl, Lead Contributor

Are you feeling like life sucks right now? It has been a tough year for many, and it is ok if you are at a bit of a low point right now. It is normal for people to feel like life is out to get us when they face a series of challenges that are beyond their control.

There are a variety of things that can make life sucky, like death, finances, job loss, physical and mental health issues, and other personal tragedies. The list can get rather long! Why is it that when we try to make those things better, life sucks just a little more?

Life can be hard, and it often seems like “when it rains it pours,” but don’t let it get you down! Understanding why life sucks and realizing there are things you can do to make it through the hard times will help you build a new perspective.

“Life is amazing. Even when it sucks, it is amazing, and we should be grateful for every moment.” — Hal Elrod

The biological reason “life sucks”

“Our brains are wired to scout for the bad stuff,” says psychologist and author Rick Hanson. Psychologists refer to this as negativity bias. Our brains naturally give more weight to the negative experiences we go through. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, when something negative (and often out of our control happens) it takes more brainpower to process through. Our brains are on high alert, fixating on the perceived threat, and trying to ensure our survival.

Humans have one biological goal in life, and that is to survive. The need to survive is stronger than the need to procreate. So, when something terrible happens, and we feel threatened, our brain devotes all our time and energy to handle that. This makes us more likely to remember bad memories and troublesome times, more easily than the good times. According to author and Stanford professor Clifford Nass, “We tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events—and use stronger words to describe them—than happy ones.”

While it is in our genetic makeup to focus on the negative and search out the environment for threats, we also have tools to help us learn to change our perspective and rewire our thinking. When we take steps to improve our life, we are usually stepping outside of our comfort zone, and that causes us anxiety and worry, which can make us think that life still sucks. Life might also seem to suck while you try to implement these tools because it requires effort and takes some time.

“Consequently, just because many people think that their life sucks, doesn’t mean that it necessarily does. What is true is that many people make the mistake of comparing their lives to the lives of others.” — Brian Kasperitis

Your thoughts matter

My therapist is always telling me that, “our brain only believes what we tell it.” It really is a fascinating and slightly wacky concept. She told me once that if a person told themselves the sky was purple, often enough and believed the sky was purple, that it would eventually be purple.

The human brain cannot discern thoughts from facts on its own. It relies on us to send it messages, information, and beliefs. So, the more you tell yourself “life sucks” and “the world is out to get you,” the more you will start looking for evidence and believing that to be true. The trick here is to manage your perception and thoughts.

Start by labeling your thoughts. I know this is going to sound a little weird, but with practice and conscious effort, it will become more natural and easier for you to do. Instead of saying, “life sucks,” or my favorite, “the universe hates me,” label your thoughts like this:

  • I am having a thought that life sucks.
  • I am having a thought that the universe hates me.
  • I am having a thought that nothing I do will make any difference.

How does this help at all? Well, it helps you to identify the thoughts you have. It also helps you gain perspective and realize that just because you think something, does not make it true. You can also take some seriousness out of negative thoughts by singing them or hearing them in a funny voice. Kind of how like when I say, “You’re in good hands,” you hear it in the Allstate guy’s voice.

The goal here is to make them sound silly or downright absurd because that will be harder for you to believe they hold much weight. Another trick my therapist taught me was to imagine my thoughts as appearing in the clouds and then watching them blow away. Heck, you can write your negative thoughts down, and then rip the paper into shreds.

You are having these thoughts because your brain is trying to ward off the threats and keep you alert. When we are trying to do things that improve our lives, they often involve change, unknown factors, and hard work.

You can acknowledge that, but at the same time tell yourself that if you can not control the situation, then your brain doesn’t need to worry about it! All of which can make us anxious. Thank it for trying and then tell yourself that you do not have to worry about this. This is where perception really comes into play.

“If you think your life sucks, it probably does. Do something about it.” — Chris Crutcher

Perception matters, too

Perception is the way you recognize and interpret sensory stimuli and is based on your memories. If we tried something once, and it blew up in our faces, we usually aren’t in a hurry to do it again.

That experience created data in our minds. Perception is the way you interpret that data and life events. There are many factors that influence the way we perceive events, especially those where we feel like life sucks. They include:

  • Our Heredity. Height, skin color, and gender impact the way we view the world.
  • Our Needs. Physiological needs, such as food and water (or lack thereof), influence our feelings about certain situations.
  • Our peers. We determine what is desirable or undesirable, based on the opinions of the people around us.
  • Our interests. We assign value and importance based on how much pleasure or reward we receive from a certain activity or product.
  • Our expectations. Our expectations affect our perception after the fact.

When thinking about the reasons that life could suck, and the thoughts we have about them, it is easy to see how important perception is. For instance, if you look at losing your job as a negative thing because you are going to have less money, less security, and “less” in general, you would perceive that as a bad thing. However, if you look at losing your job as an opportunity to learn a new skill, find a better job, or start your own business, losing your job could be the best thing that ever happened to you.

Gratitude and reframing your thoughts will help you learn to find a new perspective on things. Of course, it’s challenging to look for a positive spin on situations that you have always perceived as negative. That struggle alone can add to the feeling that life sucks, while you try to reframe your thoughts and teach yourself alternative ways to think. More struggle means more feelings like things are terrible.

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” — Chuck Palahniuk

It will take practice

It will take practice, patience, and conscious thoughts and decisions to accept that sometimes bad things happen in life that we cannot control. We can only control the way we react and respond to these events. If you want to feel like life sucks less, then changing the things you focus on, rethinking the way you think, and developing a new perception will help.

If you feel you are struggling with something that is just too big for these tips to help you out, then reach out for some help. There is no shame in admitting that life is a struggle and connecting with someone who has the training to help you get through it.

A therapist or a life coach will help you process past or current trauma while giving you tools you can use to keep going. Remember, it might be awful right now, but you won’t always feel the way you do right this moment.

Life is like a pendulum, sometimes it swings really far out toward good, and other times, it swings the other way, toward terrible. Ride the wave when you can and reach out for help when you need it. You aren’t alone and people out there love you, even when you feel like life sucks.

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