Life-threatening illnesses, the death of a loved one, financial/job loss, divorce, tragic accidents, natural disasters, wars, or terror attacks can come out of nowhere and suddenly appear in your life. These natural disasters or traumatic events on the surface seem to be anything but a blessing.
There is an old Taoist short story that highlights the unpredictability of life and maintaining a detached perspective on our experiences.
There was a farmer whose horse ran away. That evening the neighbors gathered to commiserate with him since this was such bad luck. He said, “Maybe.” The next day the horse returned but brought with it six wild horses, and the neighbors came exclaiming at his good fortune. He said, “Maybe.” And then, the following day, his son tried to saddle and ride one of the wild horses, was thrown, and broke his leg.
Again the neighbors came to offer their sympathy for the misfortune. He said, “Maybe.” The day after that, conscription officers came to the village to seize young men for the army, but because of the broken leg, the farmer’s son was rejected. When the neighbors came in to say how fortunately everything had turned out, he said, “Maybe.”
Source: Tao: The Watercourse Way, by Alan Watts
You cannot predict how your future will unfold or if events that seem like living hell may actually end up as blessings in disguise. ‘Click to Tweet’
While the hope is that no one has to experience any sort of trauma or struggle, many of us do. And with it can come tremendous emotional upheaval and psychological toll that makes the detached Taoist approach illustrated in the story seem almost unobtainable.
There is hope. Research suggests that people can experience positive change, known as posttraumatic growth, as a result of a trauma or struggle in five distinct areas:
- An openness to new opportunities that were not present before.
- Closer relationships and increased empathy and connection with others who suffer.
- Increase in personal strength and confidence “if I lived through that, I can face anything.”
- A greater appreciation for life in general.
- A deepening of a spiritual life.
Again, this doesn’t diminish the emotional pain, anxiety, or fear at the time of the event. It does not imply that traumatic events are good, nor are they the only way to experience elements of positive change.
There are many avenues that can invite you to look deep into your psyche to find the silver lining, to discover the depth of your inner strength and resilience, and to uncover potential opportunities that might have initially been overlooked.
As someone who has experienced an advanced cancer diagnosis and unexpected job loss within my family, I know firsthand some of the mental hurdles required to endure tough times. Drawing on positive psychology, there are proven strategies to help you navigate forward.
Here are 5 key habits to help you navigate tough times:
(Note: The hyperlinked text provides specific activities you can do.)
1. Savor moments throughout your day to help you stay present and grateful for your life.
2. Cultivate positive relationships to build resilience and human connection.
4. Build your confidence and gratitude: identify three things that went well during your day and note why they went well.
5. Practice random acts of kindness to others in need which will help you become less focused on your own life and circumstances.
Below are affiliate links for which I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you should you choose to purchase any of these books. Thank you in advance for supporting the blog.
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, Martin Seligman
Savoring: A New Model for Positive Experience by Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff
SuperBetter: The Power of Living Gamefully by Jane McGonigal