We all do it. Visit blogs, sites, Instagrams to make fun of people, ridicule them, prove our superiority, compare ourselves. But it's such an ugly behavior, I realized I needed to stop. Here's what I learned.

If you’ve ever read an article, gone to someone’s Facebook or Instagram, or visited a website for the sole purpose of ridiculing the content or author, patting yourself on the back about how you’re superior, or a sense of schadenfreude, you’ve hate-read.

And you probably didn’t need me to tell you that, because if you’ve got an internet connection, you’ve likely been sucked into the highly-seductive world of hate-reading.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been highly attracted to a good hate-read. I do it when I’m alone and bored, and it’s an easy rabbit hole to fall down. But it never makes me feel good. Just like I love Double Stuf Oreos more than anything in the world, once I have a couple, I’m feeling gross and thinking about all the healthier choices I could have made.

For me, hate-reading takes on three main forms:

1. There’s the Jezebels and Gawkers of the web, focused specifically on people who love to hate read, the websites who do it for me and present it to me compiled with snark and ridicule. I don’t even have to work for it, and the sheer glee in the comments feels comfortable, showing me I’m not alone. We’re all here looking for the same thing.

2. Then there’s the real people I know or feel like I know through social media. I can spend so much time scrolling through Instagram pictures of that girl I can’t stand who constantly posts selfies with her “hubby,” and thinks she’s a fashion blogger, or that girl I went to high school with who honestly cares the world needs a blow-by-blow of her wedding planning. The more annoying I find these people, the more entertaining they are to me, and the less self-aware, the better.

3. Arguably the worst is hate-reading the things I do GENUINELY hate… the websites that make you feel grimy inside. The mens rights advocates, the political website that leans as hard right as I lean left.  I justify these by saying it’s good to be aware of other peoples’ beliefs. I’m not someone to put my head in the sand when news upsets me… but that’s not what I’m doing here. I’m actively seeking out something I know is biased, something I know that will make me furious.

I realized I was hate-reading more than I was comfortable when I recently started thinking about how I wish I were the kind of person who spent more time educating myself or stayed more up on the news outside of being ticked off at certain Republican candidates. Within 30 seconds of this thought, I was clicking on an article that I just knew was going to rub me in just the right outrage spots.

Was I really spending the time I could be using productively to do the things I had JUST said I wanted to do more of getting pissed off instead?

So I decided — one week with no hate-reading. And I actually did it! Here’s what I learned.

1. I realized how often I did it.

It’s a phenomenon all too common when you quit something cold turkey… when I became conscious of how second-nature it was for me to seek out hate-reading material, I quickly realized how much time and energy I was spending doing it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t love the idea of something that makes me unhappy being my go-to activity.

When I noticed how often my finger itched for a hate click, I thought about how I could be using that time more wisely. The thing about being pissed off is I’m not using that anger to better myself… I’m just being pissed off. So, with that knowledge, I decided to stop thinking “I could do that” and actually do it.

With the time I normally spent trolling for things that make me mad, I spent studying subjects that will help me in my career. I studied for and passed the tests for Google Adwords and Google Analytics certifications, and tinkered around with Code Academy. Not so surprisingly, it felt much more rewarding doing something productive — and I actually have something to show for it.

2. It’s not them, it’s me.

You know how they say when you can’t stand someone, there’s probably something about them that you see in yourself? It’s real. I took a good hard look at my specific brand of hate-reading and the things that hit my sweet spots, and there was a pretty strong trend that what I was ridiculing was something I felt uncomfortable about in myself.

I know someone who has worked really hard to create an identity as an artist. She puts herself out there every day, both in real life and online, to do what she loves. She’s not afraid to look desperate or silly and she doesn’t wait until everything is completely perfect to showcase it. And you know what I do? I make fun of her. I think about how deluded it is that she thinks she’ll succeed, how her art isn’t that good, and how she’s being irresponsible putting all her eggs in one basket.

I really hate admitting that, and I hate knowing that it’s true. The truth is, I’m insecure about all of these things about myself. I’m terrified of putting myself out there. I’m scared of looking ridiculous. I don’t like people knowing that I’ve tried or put my heart into something, for the fear that I might not succeed. So when I see someone else do the things that I feel insecure about, my instinct is to ridicule, in order to justify my own actions.

And you know what? That’s total bullshit. Instead of being a crab in a bucket, wanting to pull them down to where I am, I should feel inspired by them and happy for them. For this week, I was acutely aware of this, and I found myself starting to feel more supportive of people instead of being like a pouty child. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s something I’m happy I learned.

3. Sometimes it’s not me, but who am I to judge someone’s happiness? (Also, it’s still me).

Look, sometimes what I’m mocking isn’t because it’s something I’m jealous of. When you post every detail of your wedding planning, or you think the Cheesecake Factory is a fancy night out, a mean-spirited part of me is comparing me to you and coming up on top. I get to reassure myself that I’m not like that and I have a life that’s better than yours. This is such gross behavior, and again, comes from insecurity.

Scrolling through social media and seeing pictures and status updates shouting to the world about how great your life is, it’s easy to feel like your life is somehow less than stellar. A quick fix is to glom on to the people who you feel superior to — at least I’m better than that. I hate this. If you’re happy about something, what gives me the right to mock you about it?

I’m sure plenty of things I do or enjoy make people roll their eyes (actually, I’m positive that’s the case). And that’s fine, because it makes me happy. I don’t want to mock others for being happy, and going a week without letting myself do so helped me realize how much more peaceful it is to just let other people do them, and for me to do me.

4. At the end of the day, hate clicks are still clicks.

While I’ve always known giving websites I hate my traffic isn’t harmful to them, I didn’t really think about it until the week I went without. Websites make money off of traffic (duh) and it’s not like my hate-reading traffic doesn’t count. When I go to offensive mens rights websites to scorn what they’re saying, or when your Facebook friend posts an article to poke fun of it, we’re actually helping give what we hate a platform.

While our anger is valid and being aware of views other than our own is necessary, sharing that page with others is just giving the “enemy” more hits. The offenders know this, too. The more outrageous the writing, the more likely it is to be shared. The more shares, the more traffic. And that’s exactly what they want.

One frustrating example lately is a website I used to frequent before this experiment, a website that features articles written by millennial women, often published because editors know the commentariat will go wild falling over themselves to deride the author. Is that a gross practice when you have a large platform to share content that could actually be used for good? My opinion is yes, but at the end of the day, they’re a business, and they make more money off the refreshing of the page by commenters than people who read something and walk away. Anyway, this website has one particular writer who is kind of a horrible person, and readers want her gone. How do they voice this? By commenting it all over her articles. Slowly but surely, this writer was published more and more often, all while commenters screamed about it in the comments. Guess what? This writer was bringing in more traffic with one article than the rest of the recent articles combined. Content publishers are a business, and hate clicks are still clicks. If you really want something to go away, ignore it. It’s tough, but it’s necessary.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Hate clicks are still clicks. If you want something to go away, ignore it.” quote=”Hate clicks are still clicks. If you want something to go away, ignore it.”]

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So what did I learn?

It doesn’t matter what makes someone else happy. Insecurity makes you do ugly things, and it’s important to recognize behavior that stems out of it. It’s more productive to ignore what you hate and channel that energy into things that serve you. The week is over, but I’m so happy I did it. It wasn’t easy, but I learned a lot about myself and my web habits — and I’m glad to continue to use my insights to influence my behavior, both online and off.

Do have a habit of frequenting sites you dislike? It’s hard to admit, but we all do it, at least to some extent. 

Go a week (or even a day) with no hate-reading and see how it impacts your life.