The most beautiful smiles are often the ones
that once struggled through the tears.
One thing I can say for sure: September 2008 through December 2009 was an extremely hard time for us. In that seemingly short 15-month timespan, Angel lost her breadwinning job (which drastically affected our livelihood), we lost a mutual close friend to cardiac arrest, and then, just as we were starting to get back on our feet, Angel’s brother passed away unexpectedly as well.
As you can imagine, each of these losses felt horrific. And when stacked back to back to back, it was sometimes difficult just to get out of bed in the morning – to make even the slightest bit of progress on anything at all. But as days turned into weeks, months and years, we pressed forward, stronger and with a greater understanding and respect for life.
Now, sitting here several years later, with many other hardships behind us as well, I can honestly say that Angel and I have learned how to cope well with hard times. It’s never easy, but there are positive and negative ways of dealing with difficult life situations. And that’s what this post is all about.
Regardless of what you’re struggling with – a major tragedy or a minor personal battle – it’s time to STOP…
1. Hiding from the truth.
Most people, at the first sign of distress, would rather deny the hard truth than face it. But the truth does not cease to exist when it is ignored. When you try to ignore it, you will find yourself living a lie every day as the truth haunts your thoughts every night. Don’t do this to yourself. Face the facts. You simply can’t get away from your truth by moving dishonestly from one place to the next.
The truth will set you free, but first it may tick you off for a while, and that’s OK. It’s always better to be hurt by the truth than comforted by a lie. Because the truth hurts only once and then gradually fades, but a lie hurts just as bad every single time you remember you’re living it.
2. Gripping tight to the fantasy of a pain-free life.
Pain is a part of life, and life’s pains have many shapes and sizes.
There’s the cold feet pain of moving on ‒ graduating, taking the next step, walking away from the familiar and into the unknown. There’s the sharp growing pains of trial and error, of failing as you learn the best way forward. There’s the immense, dizzying pain of life slapping you in the face when everything you thought you knew wasn’t true, or everything you had planned for falls through.
There are the more ambiguous aches and pains of success, when you actually get what you had hoped for, but then realize that it’s not quite what you had envisioned. And then, from time to time, there are the warm, tingling pains you feel when you realize that you are standing in a moment of sweet perfection, a priceless instant of achievement or happiness which you know cannot possibly last, and yet will remain with you forever.
Even though so many folks forget, pain is actually a good thing. It means you’re breathing, and trying, and interacting with the endless possibilities in this world. Pain is for the living only; it’s worth fully accepting and dealing with while you still have a chance. (Read The Road Less Traveled.)
3. Revisiting the past over and over in your mind.
Sadly, people all over the world are continuously telling their one dramatic story and how their entire life has turned into getting over this one event from the past. Now, every day of their lives are more about something that no longer exists, rather than the real life experiences waiting for them in the present.
We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it. You become a prisoner when you cling to what no longer exists. If you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello. It may be hard, but you have to let go. Cling no more! Realize that the past is like a foreign country – they do things differently there. And “they” have nothing to do with YOU RIGHT NOW.
4. Holding on to who you were before the storm.
Hard times are like strong storms that blow against you. And it’s not just that these storms hold you back from places you might otherwise go. They also tear away from you all but the essential parts of your ego that cannot be torn, so that afterward you see yourself as you really are, and not merely as you might like to be.
Ultimately, you realize you are here to endure these storms, to sacrifice your time and risk your heart. You are here to be bruised by life. And when it happens that you are hurt, or betrayed, or rejected, let yourself sit quietly with your eyes closed and remember all the good times you had, and all the sweetness you tasted, and everything you learned. Tell yourself how amazing it was to live, and then open your eyes and live some more.
Because to never struggle would be to never grow. You must let go of who you were so you can become who you are. It is within the depths of the strongest and darkest storms that you discover within you an inextinguishable light, and it is this light that illuminates the right path forward. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
5. “Worrying” or “thinking” a situation into something worse than it is.
What worries you masters you. Needless worry and negative thinking will never lead to positive change. However, a positive attitude and a little action can change everything. So if you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Being hurt is something you can’t stop from happening, but being miserable is always your choice.
No matter how bad things are, you can always make things worse. Negative thinking creates negative results. Positive thinking creates positive results. Period. The only limits to the possibilities in your life tomorrow are the “buts” you use today. Things always turn out best for people who make the best out of the way things turn out.
6. Acting like it’s not OK to smile.
Sometimes a little silliness is all you need to get a better perspective of life’s greatest challenges. Silliness is the carefree, sometimes crazy, and often misunderstood stepsister of happiness. May you be a friend to both, and smile your way through life’s twists and turns.
When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life that you have a thousand reasons to smile. You’ll see why.
7. Giving in and giving up as soon as the going gets tough.
All things are difficult before they are easy, and the roughest roads often lead to the top. There are simply no easy roads to anywhere worth going. Which is why you must endure the discomfort. Do what is right for your future, not what is easy right now.
You’ll learn, as you grow older, that many of life’s supposed rules are made to be broken. Even when times are tough, be bold enough to live on your terms, and never, ever apologize for it. Go against the grain, refuse to conform when it doesn’t feel right, take the road less traveled instead of the well-worn path. Laugh in the face of adversity as best as you can, and leap before you look fear too deeply in the eyes. Dance as though everyone is watching, without giving a care in the world to what they think of you. March to the beat of your own drummer. And stubbornly refuse to give up and give in.
8. Wanting to have all the answers.
Accept the feeling of not knowing exactly where you are going, and train yourself to love and appreciate this sensation of freedom. Because it is only when you are suspended in the air, with no destination in sight, that you force your wings to open fully so you can fly. And as you soar around you still may not know where you’re traveling to. But that’s not what’s important.
What’s important is the opening of your wings. You may not know where you’re going, but you know that so long as your wings are spread, the winds will carry you forward. (Read A New Earth.)
9. Obsessing yourself with negative news.
For every prominent newscaster who howls about how bleak and unjust life is, there are thousands of other people behind the scenes working tirelessly to make a positive difference in the world. For every disheartening crisis that is breathlessly reported, there are thousands of real, meaningful success stories that don’t get the attention they deserve, but that have an enormous positive ripple effect on humanity.
Try not to obsess yourself with negative news, especially when you’re in the midst of hard times. When you’re faced with negative news, learn from it and use this knowledge to work your way eagerly toward a brighter tomorrow. Today is a choice. Today, choose grace over impatience, laughter over worry, and beauty over negativity. Life does get better and better when you choose to make it so.
The floor is yours…
What would you add to the list? What do you try NOT to do when times are hard and stressful? Please leave a comment below and let us know.
Photo by: Jeffery