How To Make Any Unpleasant Situation Suck Less

How do you make unpleasant situations suck less? Is it just about having a positive attitude? Can you lifehack your way out of it? Read on and find out! #happiness #selfcare #selflove #selfdevelopment #selfhelp

It’s only 6 am and I already hate everything.

I’ve been awake for three hours and I’ve already tangled with my Lyft driver and spent $9 ill-advised dollars on airport donuts. I’ve battled for the armrest and been called ‘honey’ by the guy sitting next to me. I’ve questioned the wisdom of wearing skinny jeans on a six-hour flight. I’ve moved ‘air travel’ into the Unpleasant Situation column in my mental spreadsheet.

Do you have an Unpleasant Situation column in your mental spreadsheet? Or a Things I Dread box? Maybe you have an Experiences I Hate But Can’t Avoid list.

Dude, me too. But what if it didn’t have to be like that? What if we could make unpleasant situations – any unpleasant situation – suck less?

We can!

The good news: we can use the same six steps to make any shitty situation less awful. Long flights, the busy season at work, houseguests you didn’t invite and don’t enjoy – the same six steps apply to all of the above.

The bad news: even if we execute each of these steps perfectly, I’m not sure we can turn an Unpleasant Situation into a Perfectly Enjoyable Situation. Going to your partner’s family reunion in the middle of nowhere is never going to be the same as heading to Italy for two weeks. Painting the exterior of your house at the height of summer is never going to feel like a day at the spa.

But! With some forethought and a slightly better mindset we can make unpleasant situations suck less.

6 ways to make unpleasant situations suck less

Identify what sucked last time this happened

Just because your last business tripped sucked doesn’t mean you’re doomed to live out your own version of Groundhog’s Day.

But the best indicator of future behavior is previous behavior, right? The airport hotel probably hasn’t dramatically improved. Your co-workers probably haven’t changed their drinking habits or inclination to share political views you disagree with.

So it’s relatively likely that whatever sucked about this situation last time probably still sucks. You will still struggle to find vegetarian food in rural Iowa. You will still get asked about your relationship status when you see your extended family. You will still get bored during the four-hour drive.

Make a list of everything that went poorly last time. Some of these things probably won’t be repeated – bad weather, car trouble, illness. List them anyway.

If you’re planning for a new situation you anticipate will suck, think about your pet peeves, personality, and similar situations you’ve encountered in the past. Maybe you’ve never taken a 14-hour flight before. If you’ve taken a seven-hour flight with two layovers, you can probably guess how this will go.

Find ways to avoid those sucky things this time around

If you can name the problem, it’s a lot easier to name the solution. Share on X
Bored on the four-hour drive = download podcasts, pack those mix cds from 1998, download some ‘Would You Rather’ questions.

Hassled about your relationship status = have a calm, classy, this-is-not-up-for-discussion answer at the ready. When I was single, I liked “It’s not a priority for me right now,” said with a smile and direct eye contact. I followed this immediately with another conversation topic.

No vegetarian food in rural Iowa = packing a million delicious snacks, eat a big breakfast before you head out, plan ahead to find one or two places that have dishes you can eat.

Make this experience suck less for your body

If you’ve ever taken an Intro To Psychology class, you’re familiar with our boyfriend Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. To wildly and inappropriately simplify this very important work: We can’t be our best selves if our physiological needs aren’t met.

This is really just another way of saying “Hanger is real and, yes, bad underwear can ruin your day.”

If you’re going to be sitting in a cramped airline seat for five hours, what can you wear that will make that flight suck less? If you’re leading a long meeting, what can you eat for breakfast that will give you energy for the day? If you’re defending your thesis, how can you make sure you’re well rested?

Remember why you’re doing this in the first place

Maybe you don’t particularly enjoy that four hour drive, but you love the people waiting for you.

You might not love the monthly business trips to Boringville, USA. You do love your co-workers and the work your company is doing. You also love the money you earn at this job that allows you to live in that adorable bungalow.

It’s not fun having family members ask why you’re single. It is fun to see your favorite cousin, cuddle your baby nephew, and help your grandma make her famous lemon bars.

As we all know, nothing in life is 100% enjoyable all the time. But if you look at an unpleasant situation and you’re not sure why you’re putting yourself in it – maybe it’s time to stop, dude. 

Add a few happy-making things to these unpleasant experiences

If you hate flying but love massages, could you treat yourself to one of those $15 airport shoulder rubs? If you’re dreading the family trip to Florida, could you drop them at Busch Gardens one day and duck off by yourself for tiki drinks and really good vintage shopping? If you hate the city your company keeps sending you to, could you find a place that offers the spin classes you love?

You get the idea. Resist the urge to write off an entire experience and find a way to tuck something happy-making in among the meetings and obligations.

Related: How to figure out what makes you happy (so you can add more of it to your life)

If you can’t get out of it, get into it

Did you know most people would rather experience pain than dread?  When we spend days or weeks dreading an unpleasant situation that looms in our future, we’re opting into one of the worst feelings humans experience. What if we simply decided … not to?

We know we’re taking the flight, going to the appointment, leading the meeting. Why dread it? Why devote energy and time to preemptively sulking?

What if I didn’t run the mental tape of “God, this is going to suck. I hate early flights. I hate making small talk with my seat partner. I know I’m going to get dehydrated and bored and cramped and my hair will look TERRIBLE.”

What if I looked up which restaurants were in the airport food court and planned a decadent breakfast? What if I packed a collapsible water bottle to fill up after I got through security so I could stay hydrated on the plane? What if I downloaded the Flyover Country app so I could make the most of my window seat?

Dreading something I can’t avoid doesn’t accomplish anything. If I can’t change it, I can find a way to not hate it. Share on X
But I want to hear from you! How do you deal with unpleasant, unavoidable situations? How do you make them suck less? Tell us in the comments so we can try your tips!

P.S. 17 tiny changes that make life more interesting

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  1. Mel

    Well this is everything I didn’t know I needed.

    Helpful tip for plane travel: download a couple of meditation podcasts, one for anxiety and one for deep rest. You may not need to use both, but you’ll probably need to use one.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      So glad you found it useful, Mel! And thanks for the tip about the podcasts!

  2. Nurul

    So helpful! Thanks, Sarah 🙂

  3. Faith@Radical Transformation Project

    These are great tips. It’s so hard to maintain positive feelings in situations that suck but what other choice to we really have? I’d rather be positive in an unpleasant situation than let myself be negative even though it can sometimes take more energy. Thanks for the tips!

  4. Anonymous

    Sarah, I’ve gotten sooo much life wisdom from your blog over the last, like, 5 years and this is no exception! Not usually a commenter but wanted to say thank you ❤️

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh, you’re so kind to say so! Thanks, Anon! <3

  5. Laura Rezko

    I’ve only achieved this once, but getting all my packing for a trip and tying up loose ends at home done two days before I left for a trip made such a huge difference. I was able to relax on the day before I left, and even visit a friend. I made it to bed at a reasonable time, and was able to face the physical challenges of travel with more energy and a better mood.

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