Staying positive when facing adversity: 5 things to consider

Sometimes easier said than done, maintaining a positive attitude is key to lead a happier and more satisfying life, and be better prepared to face setbacks and challenges that inevitably occur in many areas of our lives. With so many things that can and do go wrong from time to time, it can be hard to muster up the willpower and determination to face up to these things and not be held back and resort to a self-defeating attitude.

These words may seem meaningless when you’re in the eye of the storm, but ironically, it is when we are in a bad place that our judgement seems to be at its most impaired. The sort of negative thoughts that arise in these situations is:

  • Why did this have to happen to me
  • I’m a failure
  • I deserve this
  • It’s no use trying, it won’t get better
  • That’s it, it’s too late to do anything now

No matter what you might be going through, things can get better. Sometimes what we need the most is not only support but changing our outlook towards life itself, towards our problems. 

Changing your outlook means considering the following points when you are going through a bad situation or feeling down:

  1. You are not alone and there is nothing “wrong” with you. In fact, the numbers don’t lie: It is estimated that almost half of the population in Australia will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any year, 1 million Australians adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety.
  2. Do things you enjoy. I know. The last thing you’d want to do when you’re feeling down is to do activities that’d make you feel better. But that’s the point. You should not refrain from doing what you like because, paradoxically, that leads to a vicious cycle where you feel down on yourself, so you wallow in self-pity and defeat, which leads you to stay in the same negative place you started
  3. Stay socially active. We are social animals, and as such, we need to socialize. It is amazing what talking to the right people can do for your mental health. By the right people I mean those that you like to talk to and share experiences with. It can be something as trivial as sitting down to have a cup of coffee and chat. Don’t underestimate the power of communication and social bonds.
  4. You can do two things when faced with adversity, and only one lands you in a better place: you can either face up to it and overcome it or you can give up and get down on yourself. If adversities are unavoidable, why not look at them right in the eye and tell yourself I can get through this?
  5. Happiness is a state of mind, not a destination. You have probably heard or read this quote many times. Nonetheless, it will always be true. We live in societies that tend to have this unhealthy belief that we must strive to feel happy all the time. The problem with this type of thinking is that it completely ignores human nature. We are a complicated species, we go through stages where we feel a lot of satisfaction with the state of our lives, but we also go through periods of sadness. You shouldn’t strive to be happy. You should strive to have more moments of satisfaction, as short as they may be, than moments of frustrations.

To better illustrate what it means to be at a “happy” or positive place, consider a popular term the field of positive psychology has coined: flow. Flow means to be completely absorbed and focused on what you are doing. Whether you are spending time with your friends, engaging in a difficult task at work or getting some exercise, flows is being in the moment. It means being so caught up in action you forget to even consider what might be a problem at the time. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the father of the flow theory and the world’s leading researcher on positive psychology, described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Don’t forget that staying positive does not mean that things will always turn out ok, it means that you will be okay no matter how hard things get.


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