How to Be Happy in Difficult Situations
Experiencing challenges and problems are part of life. There is nobody alive who has been spared hardship. However, some people seem to cope with bad situations better than others. Their overall happiness does not seem as compromised when unfavorable things happen. How do these people manage to stay happy even when they are facing difficult times?
Like you, I have experienced tough situations in my life. I have been hurt by others, hurt the feelings of others, had arguments with people I love, made bad decisions that brought undesirable consequences, lost money in a failing business, experienced the death of a loved one, been injured in an accident, the list goes on. Looking back at all the difficult situations I have experienced earlier in my life, I now realize that I could have handled each event better. I also know that my overall level of happiness did not have to suffer as much as it did. I would like to share with you what I have learned about being happy even when bad things occur.
It is Okay to Face and Embrace Your Unhappiness or Disappointment
One of the most important things I have learned about unhappiness and disappointment is that most people will do anything to shun them like the plague. This attempt to avoid unpleasant feelings only makes matters worse. Rather than accept the situation and the fact that bad things happen to everyone, we struggle to distance ourselves from our predicaments even though we cannot change what has happened. This resistance of reality only prolongs our pain. On the other hand, if we learn to face and accept the situation and our unhappiness, we will realize that we are strong enough to withstand our hardships. We allow ourselves to start recovering and healing from our afflictions. Rather than swimming against the tide, we learn to go with the flow and emerge a stronger and wiser person. Interestingly enough, when we embrace our unhappiness and disappointment, we rob the situation of some of its effect and start to see that we can and will overcome it if we give it time. It is okay to feel hurt or unhappy. It is a part of life. Gently lean into your pain rather than run from it. You are much stronger than you think.
Practicing Gratitude Provides Perspective
Human nature is such that we tend to focus on the bad more than we focus on the good. This is because of something called ‘negativity bias’. We spend more time and effort remembering things that make us unhappy rather than things that bring us happiness. We can find things we are grateful for in almost any situation, no matter how bad it is. This is why it is important to practice gratitude regularly and especially when we are upset. If you suddenly lost your job, you can still be grateful that you have food to eat and are not homeless. If a friend hurts your feelings, you can still be grateful that your friend has also done many nice things for you in the past and that you have many other close friends. Gratitude is very powerful and provides perspective in our lives. The next time you are unhappy, take a moment to list a few things that you are grateful for and notice how that changes how you feel.
Ask Yourself What You Can Learn from the Situation
When bad things happen, they often present us with perfect opportunities to learn a valuable life lesson. For example, if you get laid off, you can upgrade your education or skills and learn to become a more valuable employee. Or you could learn that you want to start your own business to become more independent. There are lessons to learn in almost any unfavorable situation. We just need to pay attention.
Things Are Rarely as Bad as You Think. How Will This Situation Feel in a Year?
Many of us tend to see a negative situation as being worse than it really is. We exaggerate the bad and downplay the good. My mother used to refer to this as ‘making mountains out of molehills’. Many of my unhappy experiences proved to be less detrimental and dramatic than I initially believed. Looking back now, I can see clearly that I was being too pessimistic and negative, thereby making myself more upset than necessary. Think of the number of times when you experienced something bad in the past and how you now rarely think about those situations. Of course, there genuinely are extremely difficult and sad situations that all of us must face (for example, the death of a loved one), but most of the time, things are not as bad as they seem and we will hardly think about them in a year or two. Our restless minds sometimes even manufacture problems that do not really exist. Try and remember that bad times are rarely as bad as we think they are and that, with time, they will seem trivial.
Your Expectations Affect Your Happiness
This lesson was difficult for me and took years to learn. When we have unrealistic expectations, we set ourselves up for disappointment, unhappiness and frustration. I used to think that certain unpleasant situations should not have occurred in my life and that created a lot of unnecessary despair. I was being too idealistic in believing that bad things only happen to someone else and not to me. Looking back, I now know that this, of course, is ridiculous. Life will not always go smoothly. When we expect both the good and the bad, then we have a more balanced outlook in life and can avoid much of the heartache. The more unrealistic our expectations are, the more unhappy we will be.
Knowing What You Can Control and What You Cannot Brings Freedom
Closely related to the point above, it is important to remember that there are some things that we simply have no control over so there is no point trying. Of course, there are also many situations that we can influence, too. The trick is knowing where to spend our time and energy. For example, if we failed a math exam, we can study harder and pass it the next time. If we expect it not to rain on our vacation, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. All too often people waste their energy trying to control things that they have absolutely no power over, and this is a recipe for unhappiness. I have learned to recognize and accept the things that I cannot exert control over and focu on things that I can change instead.
Be Aware of Your Replay Button and What Your Mind Focuses On
As we already know, all of us will inevitably face difficult situations in our lives. While we cannot change the past, we can also not replay the events in our heads over and over again as many people do. This only causes unnecessary and additional suffering. For example, let’s say someone we are interested in romantically tells us that she is not interested in being anything more than friends. While that event may be disappointing and cause some heartache, many of us will replay the event over and over again in our heads. We might beat ourselves up for not being more attractive or desirable or for saying the wrong thing. Our minds perpetuate the undesirable event over and over again like a video on auto-replay. Very often, it is that constant replay that causes more suffering and unhappiness than the event itself. That is why it is important to be mindful and understand the way our minds work.
Be Present and Mindful
Think about this: almost all our unhappiness is caused by something that has occurred in the past. When people are unhappy, it is most likely because they are ruminating about a past event that they cannot change. The past is gone and what has been done cannot be undone. Yet so many people stay unhappy by focusing on the past. If you want to be happy, it is essential to focus on the present, on the here and now. After all, now is the only time we really have. We will never get the past back. By learning to focus on the present moment, we become free from the past, no matter how bad it may have been. Of course this is not an easy thing to do, but even if we succeed some of the time, it greatly alleviates our unhappiness. One way to become better at this is by learning to meditate.
Complaining Does Not Make Things Better
While it often helps to confide in a friend and talk things out, constant complaining does not help us. In fact, when we complain about someone or something, we are drawing our attention to the unpleasant situation and away from things that make us happy. If we focus our minds on what makes us unhappy, it only serves to reinforce the unhappiness. Most of us know someone who complains more than the average person. These people tend to be some of the unhappiest people around. It is important to refrain from complaining because it serves no purpose in our quest for happiness.
We Always Have a Choice on How To Respond
The older and more mature I get, the more I realize that we always have a choice in life on how to respond to a negative situation. No matter how bad or trivial it might be, our real power lies in our right to choose how to act. This has helped me out so much in life because it means that I can decide my reaction to almost anything. Of course, it is not the easiest thing to do sometimes, but, with practice, we can all become better at choosing our responses. If a driver cuts us off in traffic, we can either get very angry or we can choose to think nothing of it and focus on the beautiful weather. Our response plays a big part in determining our moods. I view that freedom of choice to be extremely powerful and liberating. It lends truth to the saying, “Happiness is a choice”.
Exercise Makes Everything a Little Better
This might seem cliche, but exercise really does lift our moods. The serotonin and endorphins that are released when we exercise are ‘feel-good’ chemicals that boost our moods. This does not mean that all our problems will suddenly melt away. However, exercise will help us cope better with any situation and has even been shown in many studies to reduce or prevent depression (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495). The mistake some people make is to neglect exercise when they are unhappy. The next time you are unhappy about something, go for a brisk walk or run and see how you feel after. Chances are that you will feel a lot better than you did before.
Do What You Love
I have discovered that if I engage in activities and hobbies that I love when I am feeling unhappy, it always lifts my spirits. When we do what we love, it grabs our attention and focuses it away from whatever is making us unhappy. My loves are cooking, gardening, exercise, and photography. You will have your own favorites and it is extremely useful to tap into them. Think of it as a form of meditation and mindfulness.
Remember That Nothing Lasts Forever and That This Will Pass
Finally, always take heed in the fact that our difficult times and unhappiness will not last. Nothing lasts forever, including pain and disappointment. Give yourself the gift of time and be patient. Seek solace in the fact that time lessens all wounds. The world is always changing and so are our lives. Nothing is constant. There really is light at the end of the tunnel even if it seems dim or nonexistent right now. Just keep moving forward and stop looking backwards.