A Simple Strategy to Reframe ‘Bad Days’
I love learning common expressions in a language. And I hope you do too because this one could help you be happier when you feel low. I know it’s helped me my entire life, before I even noticed how.
I was born in France and currently live in my home country but I lived many years abroad and have also spent most of my life in English since I became fluent in this language 15 years ago.
I’ve come to think in English most of the time and, when nothing’s going the right way, I always tell myself “There are some good days and some bad days. Today’s just a bad day.”
Currently living with my parents, however, I speak French more often than I usually do. When they ask me how my day is going and it’s not going that well, I tell them the French version of the above.
“Il y a des jours avec et des jours sans.”
It turns out this is a much more positive way to look at negative days. But to understand why, let’s dive first into “good days” and “bad days”.
When you think you’re having a “bad day”, you put a stamp on it based on your own perspective. What you consider a bad day could be considered a good day for someone else. And what seems like a bad day for you could be seen as a good day by your future self, when you look back.
Most breakups feel awful when they happen but not after you find your life partner. Getting fired automatically turns any day into a “bad” one, but when you look back years later while living a better life, you see it in a positive way.
In one zen story, an old farmer’s horse runs away one day. His neighbors tell him “What awful luck” and he replies “We’ll see”. The next day, the horse comes back with three other horses. His neighbors tell him it’s amazing but he replies “we’ll see” again. The following day his son breaks his leg while trying to ride a horse and his neighbors once again tell him “What awful luck”. Without fail, he replies “We’ll see”. When officers came to his village to draft young men the next day, they passed over the farmer’s son because of his broken leg. And when his neighbors told him again he was lucky, he just kept his reply. “We’ll see.”
Depending on the moment you choose to look at the farmer’s life, you can consider him lucky or not. Perspective changes with time. You will never really have “good” days or “bad” days.
You can only choose to see them one way or another.
Giving it a Name Cements it
I’ve had many days that started awful and finished well. I’ve also had days that began amazing and slowly turned to crap by the time I went to sleep. How would you characterize those? Are they good days? Are they bad days?
The problem with the expression “There are good days and bad days” is that it puts the day into a single category. It’d be useful if it were a positive one but I’ve never met someone say this expression while having a “good day”.
People who have “good days” just live them and don’t waste time thinking about this expression. It’s only when things aren’t going the right way that we think about it. And when you choose to consider it a “bad day”, you begin a downward spiral.
We’ve all been there many times. In my previous job, as a project manager, about half the days started with a problem that arose during the night. As the hours passed, problems piled up, delays increased, and the pressure I felt increased as well. Each time I considered it a “bad day”, the day would only get worse.
Just like we see everybody wearing the same shoes as the ones we just bought; when we give a name to a “bad day”, we bring it to life. We see more and more reasons to consider it “bad”. We begin overlooking the positive aspects throughout the day.
Days With and Days Without
Since I’ve come back to France 5 months ago, there have been many days I could have considered “bad”. Instead, since I talked to my parents, I considered them in French, using this expression.
Il y a des jours avec et des jours sans. Et les jours sans, il faut faire avec.
A rough English translation would be as follow:
There are days with and days without. And the days without, we must deal with them.
This expression made my perspective on negative days much more positive.
It’s a rather new French expression since it only dates back to the 1940s, when France had a Ministry of Supply which shared first-necessity foods (bread, pasta, butter, cheese — yes, I know, very Frenchy “first-necessity”) a few days a week. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were officially declared as days “without meat”. That’s why there were “days with and days without (meat)”.
It’s since then been expanded to mean “good and bad days” overall. The second half of this expression was also added later on to make a funny wordplay and it stuck.
But why do I think this expression is better than its English counterpart? For two reasons.
The first one is obvious if you’ve read everything until here. By saying “with and without”, you’re not giving a statement of quality. Even though you may imply “good and bad”, these terms don’t appear anywhere. That gives you the opportunity to make a day “without” turn out positive.
But it’s the second I love most. You can’t have a day with everything. And you can’t have a day without anything. Sure, today may be a “day without” when it comes to work, but didn’t you enjoy your personal time, with your partner or friends? Maybe today’s a “day without” in your relationship, but didn’t you succeed in writing an amazing piece?
“Bad days” allow us to notice the good ones. But when we name them in that way, we lose the opportunity to make the best of other areas.
When you reframe “good days and bad days” into “days with and days without” early enough, you get the opportunity to turn your focus toward something more positive.
And that could be all you need to live a better day.