Having a “Bad” Day

Q: What should a day be judged by? How would a good day and a bad day differ? 

Everyday is a new day and when we get to the end of it, as you have suggested in past columns, it’s wise to write 3 things that were good in the day…..but what makes a day good or bad? How do we keep that in the realm of objectivity? What are the criteria!? 

A: Good question. ‘Good’ or ‘bad’ days don’t simply refer to what you feel. You define good or bad by objective standards. Which raises the next question: What are you trying to accomplish in life? A lot of people exist moment to moment, day to day, without any real goals. You hear of people who live ‘paycheck to paycheck,’ financially speaking. That’s how a lot of people live, period. They don’t have any consciously articulated criteria for what they’re after, nor how to get there. They lack a plan. As a result, they’re left with nothing but their emotions — their moods, their hormones, their impulses — to guide them, direct them, or tell them what’s ‘right.’ Not smart. 

So the answer to your question presupposes that you have a plan. A plan is whatever you determine is objectively required to accomplish your life’s purpose. If all you have time or energy for is to make a living, and to buy the things you need and want, then fine. There’s no shame in survival being the purpose of your life. But once you have that task mastered, it’s natural to become more ambitious and to want more. At that point, you set further goals regarding what you want to accomplish next. If surviving and getting a sustainable income was your previous purpose, your new purpose will be something beyond that. 

It’s possible to have multiple purposes at once, not dozens but several. For example, you might seek to survive and develop a sustainable income but also, at the same time, become a doctor, a successful businessperson, or a writer or artist. In many cases, people work to earn a living as a way to subsidize their real passion, something that isn’t (at least yet) financially sustainable as income but still worth doing. Obviously it’s best, when possible, to make a living doing what you love. But if you can’t, it’s still a meaningful and productive life, for many, to pursue what they love, with little or no income, while doing honest work to subsidize their passion. 

I can’t overstate the importance of having a life purpose, along with a plan to bring that purpose into reality. Without a life purpose, you’re nothing. Think of planning a long road trip with no maps, no itinerary, no stops and no conception of where you’re even going. You start the car and ask yourself, ‘So what next?’ Or imagine going to the airport with no tickets and no destinations in mind. It’s just as insane (if not more insane) to lead your life this way as it would be to plan a trip this way. 

Here’s where a lot of people get stuck. They don’t have a plan, or even a life’s purpose. ‘So what do I do now?’

Rational reply: ‘Select a purpose and develop a plan.’ 

Response: ‘I can’t.’

This is nothing more than giving up. Life without purpose is not an option. Life without purpose is not life. You have no logical basis for expecting happiness if you’re not willing to persist at discovering what you want your life to be.

Historically, a lot of people got stuck on this issue because of religion. Religion, in one form or another, taught them: ‘Trust God to show you your purpose.’ How convenient. This absolves the person of responsibility for figuring out his own purpose, rationally and objectively. And the person can blame God when nothing gets off the ground.

Today, a lot of people get stuck because of conventional psychology, psychiatry and self-help. Today these disciplines tell patients and consumers: It’s all in your brain chemistry. Get that brain chemistry in balance, and then you’ll be up and running.

Oh, really? How is brain chemistry alone responsible for selecting a life purpose and developing a plan for achieving it? No answer is given, and it’s heresy to even ask the question. But it’s the question that matters.

Back to what constitutes a good day and a bad day. A good day is any day that significantly advances your progress, objectively defined, according to your life’s purpose. That objective definition is defined by your plan. Rationally speaking, the good days are more important than bad days. You can have a bad day, but still look at your overall progress and often feel better. If not — that is, if you’re not making any progress at all — it’s an opportune time to question your purpose, refine it or even replace it if necessary. This happens to people all the time, including ultimately successful ones. It’s a setback, not a catastrophe. A sense of long-range purpose gives one the perspective and courage to stay the course when setbacks and errors occur along the way.

To give up on finding a purpose, along with implementing a plan consistent with one, is essentially giving up on life. You cannot give up on life and then ask, ‘Why aren’t I happy?’ It’s up to each one of us to earn our own happiness.