On Being Up During the Down
We’re happy during the good times. Can we be happy during the down times? Absolutely and unequivocally, we can. Here’s how…
It’s easy to be happy when times are good.
But I would argue that we can be just as happy when things are not good, when we’re going through periods of hardship, trouble and adversity.
If that sounds crazy to you – and I completely understand if it does – then I would implore you to keep reading.
There’s really not much to be said here, is there?
When times are good, when things are going our way and life is easy, it’s not that hard to be happy, right?
That’s the default mentality for most of us during the good times, as it should be.
But what about when times are bad?
For many, when times are not so good, it’s a given that happiness goes out the window.
Anxiety, stress and angst arrive and take root.
The gnashing of teeth and the wringing of hands become common occurrences.
During particularly bad times, depression may even come calling.
That’s normal and to be expected, right?
Yes, that probably is normal, and yes, that probably is to be expected.
But I would argue that it doesn’t have to be that way.
I would even go so far as to say it should’t be that way.
In fact, I would argue that we can be just as happy during the down times as we are during the good times.
The Upside of Down
That makes absolutely zero sense, right?
While I’d be the first to admit that, while on the surface and from an intuitive perspective, that sounds completely illogical, there are a number of things we can do to position ourselves to do exactly that: experience just as much happiness during the down times as we do during the good times.
Please hang with me, and allow me to explain…
Recognize It’s the Norm
First, as a big picture observation at the top of this discussion, experiencing adversity, setback and loss are simply a normal part of life.
For literally everyone.
Even for the Warren Buffets, the Bill Gateses and the Jeff Bezoses of the world.
Yep, even for them.
Sometimes, we look at others and think their lives are perfect, and that they somehow don’t experience down times.
We sometimes feel inferior because, in comparison, our lives are not as pristine.
In this day and age of many (most?) people putting their best face forward publicly in social media, that’s an easy and totally understandable assumption (and mistake) to make.
But that’s simply not reality.
As I wrote here and here, pain, suffering and trouble are actually guaranteed in this life – for all of us.
That being the case, when something bad happens to us, rather than viewing that as an exception to the norm, we should view it as routine and completely to be expected.
Embracing this reality is a good first step toward psychologically adjusting and preparing yourself to be happy during times of adversity.
Because – when viewed through this lens – we can begin to respond to adversity as if it’s a normal, routine thing – which it really is – rather than as if it’s an abnormal, exceptional thing – which it absolutely is not.
Recognize You’re in Control
Second, and as a logical extension of the prior point, we can be happy during down times by recognizing and leveraging another truth that many people never fully acknowledge or embrace: we are in control of how we respond to the negative things that inevitably happen to us in this life.
One of my favorite quotes, from Charles R. Swindoll, is this: “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
I can honestly say that just stumbling upon that quote for the first time changed my life.
Hearing that thought fundamentally altered the wiring of my brain and the overall pattern of my emotional response process.
That perspective opened a new door in my mind and effectively gave me permission to start responding to adversity in an entirely different way.
I can look back on my life, and I can recall so many instances in which my reaction to a given bad thing was as bad as, if not worse than, the bad thing itself.
That’s a key indicator of emotional immaturity.
And, most of my life, I have been exactly that: emotionally immature.
Don’t be like I was.
Don’t add to the problem by wasting time on negative thoughts and emotions that accomplish absolutely nothing.
Don’t invest any time or energy on self pity, anger or having a “why me” mentality.
Remember: adversity is normal.
It happens to everyone.
React to it exactly as you should: as if it’s an everyday, typical thing.
Because it is.
Recognize It’s a Choice
Third – and related to, but slightly different than, the prior point – we also need to remind ourselves that happiness is a choice.
As Abraham Lincoln famously said it, “Most people are about as happy as they want to be.”
The older I get and the more life experience I gain, the more I agree with this.
At one time, I thought this sort of thinking was laughable.
It was unrealistic.
It was pie-in-the-sky, pollyanna at its worst.
In some instances, it was outright self-delusional.
As I alluded here, I no longer think like that, because I’ve now lived long enough, and experienced enough down times, to know that what Lincoln said is absolutely true.
Always choose the positive, the upbeat and the happy side – of everything.
Including the down times.
Choose to be positive, even when your circumstances are negative.
So, another major step toward being up when things are down is in simply recognizing and acknowledging that being happy, irrespective of circumstances, IS a choice.
Specifically and consciously, choose to be up, no matter what.
Recognize It’s Temporary
Fourth, in order to be happy during times of difficulty, we need to recognize that the vast majority of the adversity we face is temporary in nature.
Personally, looking back on my life, 100% of the down times I’ve experienced have been exactly that: temporary.
The pain that resulted from even the very worst things that have happened to me – having a serious skiing accident, losing a parent, having a business fail, a number of failed relationships, having a serious motorcycle accident, having another business fail, losing another parent, tearing my Achilles, etc. – eventually passed, and – whether it was four months, or six months, or a year – life eventually returned to normal.
As the old saying goes, “This too shall pass.”
When you’re in the middle of a down time, it’s sometimes hard to keep this mentality, but it really is true: whatever it is, whatever you’re going through, it too shall pass.
Yes, you’re right, just because we know intellectually that doesn’t mean that we still don’t experience the pain emotionally and psychologically in the interim.
Of course we do.
But that pain eventually goes away.
And recognizing and reminding ourselves of that reality makes it that much easier to be happy, even when in the midst of the problem.
Focus on the Solution
Fifth, another thing we can do to be happy when dealing with adversity is this: instead of wasting time on negative thoughts and emotions, focus all your attention and energy on identifying and implementing the solution.
What are the next steps to take?
What is the best and most positive response to the problem or the situation?
The smartest and most successful person I’ve ever met is a brilliant South African named Stefan Swanepoel (Google him). In a former life, he was a business partner of mine.
Stefan does more in a year than most people do in a lifetime. He is a machine. He sleeps less than four hours every night, and he eats one meal per day. Literally.
At times, I’ve honestly thought he might not actually be human.
He has accomplished incredible things, in a whole slew of contexts and industries.
As just one example, he’s the number one author, speaker and trends analyst in real estate…in the world.
One of the most valuable of the many lessons I learned from Stefan, which I gleaned from simple observation, was what I’m talking about here: in response to adversity or a setback, he wasted absolutely no time whatsoever on anything other than identifying and executing the most optimal solution.
No finger pointing.
No wallowing in self-pity.
No wondering why it happened or who was to blame, or if it was fair or not fair.
Just a laser-like focus on formulating the right response, and then taking action.
The first time I experienced this with Stefan, I remember thinking, “Wait. Aren’t we going to sit around and talk about what just happened, why it happened, etc.? Aren’t we going to respond appropriately to this negative event? Aren’t we going to react like people normally react to negative occurrences?”
We’re not going to do any of those things.
Skipping all of that was like a breath of fresh air.
Much like when I discovered the “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it” quote, my entire view of dealing with adversity changed in an instant.
I realized that no, we don’t have to sit around commiserating, agonizing and rehashing why something bad happened, and no, we don’t have to waste a bunch of time and emotion reacting negatively to that adversity.
In taking that approach, we completely avoided the negative impact that typically affects the mood, vibe and dynamic of a working team. Or that makes things worse from the perspective of an individual dealing with a problem of some variety.
We were able to maintain the positive, upbeat and happy vibe of the working environment by consciously choosing to avoid all that drama and by simply focusing on taking whatever actions were necessary to effectively deal with the adversity de jour.
Be life Stefan.
Focus on the solution.
You’ll be much happier in the midst of turmoil if you do.
Find the Silver Lining
Sixth, another thing we can do to be happy during times of adversity: find the silver lining.
It may sound corny or cliché, but it really is true: there is a silver lining in almost every situation, no matter how negative that situation may appear.
Here are some examples of the silver linings I’ve discovered from negative things that have happened to me:
– A prospective business, that I worked years on developing, never formed. The silver lining: I discovered that the person who was going to be my partner in that business was not loyal, and that his word could not be trusted. The silver lining: discovering that before the business actually formed was far preferable to learning it at some point in the future.
– A business failed. The silver lining: I discovered one of my partners was not ethical, and learning that relatively quickly probably saved me from a much greater failure years down the road.
– Another business failed. The silver lining: It was because of that failure that I went in another direction professionally, and it was that change of direction that led to my greatest success; without that failure, I would have never experienced that subsequent success, which far transcended what was possible in the original scenario.
I could go on and on.
And yes, sometimes it does take time to discover the silver lining in a given situation.
But, with sufficient experience, you get to the point where you know there is a silver lining.
Sometimes, they just take a while to reveal themselves.
But, ultimately, they always do surface.
So, all that said, when you find yourself dealing with a problem of some sort, instantly shift into “silver lining discovery” mode.
This will automatically help shift your psychology from negative to positive, and make it that much easier to be happy as you work through that adversity.
Keep the Right Perspective
Seventh, to be happy during times of adversity, it’s helpful to do your best to keep the right perspective.
Have you ever seen a child lose a balloon and completely freak out as they watch it float up and away?
As adults, we see that and chuckle, don’t we?
We think, “Don’t cry, little one. That balloon is easily replaceable, and it’s just not that big of a deal. You’re simply too you and immature to understand that yet.”
But the reality of the matter is that many of us never stop doing that.
We experience a setback, a loss or trouble, and we freak.
Just like that little kid when they lost that balloon.
All that is to say, when dealing with adversity, a setback or a loss, ask yourself this question: How big of a deal is this, really?
In the heat of the moment – particularly at the onset, when a bad thing first happens and we’re all jacked up on emotion – we tend to overreact to negative events.
We tend to lose all perspective on how significant the negative event actually is.
Because the truth of the matter is that – if we have the basics: food, clean water, shelter, our core health (even if that is marginally compromised somehow) – we truly have everything we need.
I would even go so far as to suggest that, if we do have those things, we have 98%, ish, of everything we need to be happy in this life.
Anything we may have above and beyond those fundamentals is simply icing on the cake.
Living in the land of affluence that is America – where many routinely work themselves to the extreme so they can move from having 98.125% of what they need to be happy to 98.267% – we tend to lose sight of that reality.
We become obsessed with a whole slew of things that really have no real impact on the quality of our lives.
IMO, that behavior stems from a problem endemic to our culture that Gary Vaynerchuk explains perfectly in this video:
All that is to say, when dealing with adversity, perspective is everything.
If you’re able to identify the right perspective, you can be happy in virtually any scenario.
Recognize the Peripheral Benefits
Eighth and finally, while we often don’t perceive these things until we’re past the problem, to be happy during adversity, we need to recognize that there are a number of peripheral benefits that typically result from dealing with adversity that will end up helping us in one or more ways in the future. Here are a few of those things…
Nothing makes us appreciate things like losing them does.
Adversity helps us appreciate the good things we have, and makes us realize with greater clarity the extent to which we take so many things for granted.
As an example, last November, while working out, I tore my left Achilles tendon.
As you can read here, as a result of having that injury, I gained a whole series of positive outcomes.
As crazy as this may sound, at this point, looking back on that incident, I’m actually glad it happened.
I’ve recovered fully, I can do all the things I did before the injury, the pain and discomfort were minimal, the time I was inconvenienced passed very quickly, and I gained a number of new perspectives and levels of appreciation I didn’t have prior to the injury, some of which I know will benefit me in the future (see next point).
There’s real value in that.
Makes Dealing with Future Challenges Easier
Another of the positive aspects of going through down times is that – with each successive experience of living through one of those events, and coming out on the other side and realizing that life does indeed go on, and that the pain does eventually fade – it gets progressively easier to deal with the next one.
Making one final allusion to my Achilles injury, because I had prior experience in dealing with major injuries (a broken ankle, a third degree A/C separation of my shoulder from a skiing accident, multiple broken bones and significant head trauma that led to a struggle with vertigo from a motorcycle accident, etc.), I was able to have an entirely different view of that injury, right from the onset, because of those prior negative experiences.
Was I upset when I tore my Achilles?
I knew that I was facing a significant surgery and a long, laborious recovery.
But as soon as the initial shock wore off – and I’m talking minutes here – I was completely level-headed and back to being my normal self.
I didn’t freak out, at all.
I did exactly as I suggested in the fifth point above: I focused all my focus and my emotion on finding and implementing a solution.
I was able to keep my composure and do what I did primarily because I had those prior experiences in dealing with the adversity of those prior injuries.
I knew what was involved.
I understood the recovery process.
I knew I was disciplined in such situations, and that I would do exactly what I needed to do to recover and heal as quickly as possible.
And that’s exactly what I did.
But key in all of that was that the experience of the prior adversities absolutely lessened the impact of the new adversity.
Ergo, another reason to be up in down times is that we know that living through such things gets easier and easier with each successive occurrence, and we know that we gain knowledge and insights that often prove helpful in dealing with future adversities.
As the old adage goes, “Experience is the best teacher.”
Another, not as old adage goes something like this: “There is no failure; there is only success, or learning.”
I believe both of those sayings, because experience has taught me they are absolutely true.
So, any time you face adversity, know that you will learn something valuable from that experience.
Learn what you can from the situation.
Yes, often that lesson involves pain.
Sometimes, that is unavoidable.
But, generally speaking, the greater the pain, the more valuable (and the more indelible) the lesson.
Helps Us Grow
Down times are the soil in which the seeds of wisdom and maturity take root.
Yes, we can and do grow and mature in any context, but the most rapid growth and maturation typically occur when we’re dealing with adversity.
I know this from my own personal experience.
I can look back on the toughest times of my life, and I can see clearly how much I gained from those experiences.
This is also consistent with scripture. Here are two of my favorite related verses from the Bible:
– James 1:2-4 – Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
– Romans 5:3-4 – Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Speaking now as a Christian specifically, I can tell you, unequivocally and with absolute certainty, that my growth as a Christian has occurred almost exclusively during the worst times of my life.
I am a person of faith.
And that faith was formed, forged and fortified in the fire of multiple adversities.
Because the reality is this: when times are good, you don’t need faith.
It is really only during the down times when you do.
If you’re not a Christian, this may sound totally insane to you, but – sometimes, when things are going too smoothly, too easily and too well in my life – I actually hope for a setback, because, during the good times, I can feel the absence of adversity causing the measure and magnitude of my faith to stagnate.
Like a muscle not used begins to atrophy, so too does faith not tested.
Continuing that analogy, in order to grow, muscle must be torn and broken down.
Only then does it repair, and come back even bigger and stronger.
This is also true of faith: when challenged and stressed, it grows.
Why does it grow during times of adversity?
Because those are the times when we are most likely to turn to God and ask for help.
When times are good, we don’t need His help.
We times are bad, we do.
So, in the down times of my life, I have turned to Him and asked for help.
And He has always delivered.
100% of the time.
Experiencing that – time after time after time – makes me realize – again and again and again – that my faith is perfectly placed.
So, for me, as a Christian, the down times are of particular benefit, because I know my faith will be challenged.
And that makes my faith grow all the more…and that may be the biggest benefit of all of dealing with the struggles of life: that, with each successive struggle, my faith comes back bigger and stronger than it was before.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that bad times are preferable to good times.
Of course not.
If your life is nothing but bad times, that clearly sucks.
And yes, there are obviously qualitative differences in terms of “bad times.”
Receiving a speeding ticket and finding out you have terminal cancer are entirely different flavors of adversity.
But I firmly believe – in probably 95% or more of the cases in which we deal with trouble, setback or loss in life – we can be just as happy in those times of adversity as we are during the good times of our lives.
We just need to:
– Recognize adversity is a normal part of life.
– Recognize you’re in control in terms of how you respond to adversity.
– Recognize that happiness is a choice.
– Recognize that the vast majority of adversity is temporary in nature.
– Focus on the solution rather than the problem.
– Immediately search for the silver lining.
– Keep the right perspective.
– Recognize that adversity almost always provides peripheral benefits, some of which end up being quite significant.
I hope you found something of value here.
More importantly, I hope you’ll experience happiness each and every day of your life, irrespective of your circumstances…
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