You Can Find Joy Again After Life Has Knocked You Down: Here’s How
Not tired physically, but emotionally — more specifically, drained and weary from all the drama, misunderstandings, losses, betrayals and disappointments that come with being alive.
I work hard at staying optimistic, but with every let-down, the time it takes for me to recover and get back on my feet seems to grow just a little bit longer.
If you’re reading this, you might just feel this way too.
And if you’re not careful, you’ll allow this deep-seated exhaustion to break you down completely and make you want to settle, give up or even end it all.
Don’t. Here’s why:
PAIN IS A PART OF LIFE, BUT…
While you can’t avoid experiencing adversity and trauma in life, it is possible to find strength in facing them and finding joy again after you do, say Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, the authors of Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience And Finding Joy.
In their book, Sandberg, who is chief operating officer at Facebook and founder of the Lean In Foundation, describes the pain and loss of hope she experienced after the sudden death of her husband, Dave Goldberg.
Suddenly, ordinary, everyday events became emotional landmines for Sandberg and her two children, with waves of sadness overcoming them at awkward times, like board meetings, during classes or on in her car, on the side of the road.
Drowning in grief, she felt as if it would never subside, and that she would never be happy again.
But after several months, Sandberg made a startling realization: That dealing with grief was similar to building physical strength and endurance with exercise — the more you do it, the better you get at recovering after.
MAKE PAIN A SOURCE OF GROWTH
While recovering, she discovered with the help of Grant and countless others, that there were steps she could take to help her not only heal from the pain, but grow as a result of it and in the process, rediscover joy.
In essence, she says, we have the ability to build our strength in the face of adversity and respond to it more quickly, allowing us to move through the pain without breaking and emerge on the other side, stronger.
Here’s how you can build your resilience to pain and find your way back to joy after being knocked down:
1. DON’T LET THE 3 ‘P’s KEEP YOU STUCK
One of the first steps Sandberg took was to make sure that her healing process wouldn’t be held back by the 3 P’s, as defined by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and his colleagues:
1. Personalisation: The belief that an event is our fault.
2. Pervasiveness: The belief that an event will affect every aspect of our lives, and
3. Permanence: The belief that the pain and trauma we’re experiencing will last forever.
Sandberg’s way forward was to realize that her husband’s death wasn’t her fault, wouldn’t affect every aspect of her life, and wouldn’t be her shadow for the rest of her life.
You don’t have to avoid or deny the fact that you feel sad and hopeless, but you can step into the awareness that you will feel less sad and hopeless with time and effort.
2. SPEND TIME WITH ‘OPENERS’
You know that friend who’ll happily talk about everything else — the weather, who won the football game, which college their son got accepted to — but will never ask how you’re doing?
Most of us would.
The truth is that while some of these friends may be too self-absorbed to notice or care about what’s going on with you, the rest may just be uncomfortable with having painful, intimate conversations that they think will upset you even though they are genuinely concerned about you.
No matter what the reason, the outcome is often the same: You feeling shocked or invisible, and deprived of much-needed validation that you’re not wrong or crazy to feel the way you do because of the situation you’re in.
One way to ease this pain is to seek out people who are what psychologists call ‘openers’: People who ask you plenty of questions and listen to your answers without judgement. Talking to ‘openers’, who don’t necessarily need to be your closest friends, says Sandberg, can make a big impact on your well-being when you’re going through a difficult time.
If you’re tempted to put your walls up, consider letting someone who’s open and willing to listen with an open heart, in. It won’t be easy, but it may just help ease the pain that’s weighing heavily on your shoulders, and more importantly, remind you that you don’t have to struggle with it alone.
3. PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION
All of us make mistakes, and none of us can change anything we’ve done.
But why is it that some people spend a lifetime feeling shameful, worthless and angry at themselves for mistakes they’ve made in the past, while others are able to recover, regain their sense of self-worth and make better choices in the future?
One difference lies in their ability to practice self-compassion. says Sandberg.
Psychologist Kristin Neff, Ph.D., and author of the book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power Of Being Kind To Yourself defines self-compassion as treating yourself the way you would a friend who’s suffering: With kindness, understanding and warmth.
Her advice? Open yourself to the fact that you are an imperfect human. Accepting this reality will allow you to honor your ‘humanness’ and help you cope with failures, frustrations and losses without judgement or criticism.
To make self-compassion a part of your life, try doing this one thing that Sandberg made a part of her nightly routine for six months until her feelings of trauma started to fade: Write down 3 things you’ve done well, each day.
It may not seem like much, but this one tiny habit helped her focus on the contributions she was making to the people around her, rather than what she’d been doing wrong — a ritual that helped restore Sandberg’s confidence, diminish her self-doubt and build the self-compassion she needed to heal.
4. LOOK FOR TINY MOMENTS OF JOY
As humans, we often hold on to negative experiences, while letting the positive slide right past us — a tendency scientists call the negativity bias.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Resilient: How To Grow An Unshakeable Core Of Calm, Strength And Happiness describes our brains as being wired to be like ‘Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones’, which explains why we grow to be more sensitive to stress and negative experiences as we get older, and as we experience pain in life.
This built-in negativity sensor in our brains have evolved to play such a powerful role in our lives for good reason: To keep us out of harm’s way by forcing us to notice danger, remember it, and hopefully, avoid it in the future. It’s how we learn from our mistakes.
But how do we keep this primal reaction to negative experiences from snowballing into destructive behavior and hijacking our ability to be joyful and optimistic?
One way to do this is to develop the habit of savoring the tiny moments of joy that come your way: The way a hot shower feels on a cold winter’s evening, how delicious that juicy burger you’ve been craving for tastes, the soft and comforting feel of your pillow just before you drift off to sleep.
Happiness is the frequency of positive experiences, not their intensity, says Sandberg, so the more attention you pay to those little moments of joy, the happier you’ll be. But make no mistake — success with this practice requires constant effort, especially since we’re wired to focus on the negatives.
Even so, there are steps that we can take to make cultivating the discipline we need to be happier, easier.
Here’s one simple exercise that Grant recommends to accomplish this: Write down three moments of joy that you’ve experienced throughout your day, every day.
It’s this very habit that helped Sandberg notice and appreciate the flashes of joy that brightened her day, and it’s been helping illuminate mine too.
I may not know how tired you are or how much pain you’re in, but I do know this: That you can rediscover the strength you need to get to a happier, safer and more peaceful place, and I hope you get there soon.
MAKE YOUR HEALTHY HABITS STICK.
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Main photo credit: Alexander Lam on Unsplash