When life is “falling apart,” it could actually be falling together… for the very first time. Which is why it feels so darn uncomfortable. Consider that what’s in front of you may be serving you in valuable ways you don’t even understand right now.
“Today, on my 47th birthday, I re-read the suicide letter I wrote on my 27th birthday about two minutes before my girlfriend showed up at my apartment and told me, ‘I’m pregnant.’ She was honestly the only reason I didn’t follow through with it. Suddenly I felt I had something to live for. Today she’s my wife, and we’ve been happily married for 19 years. And my daughter, who is now a 21-year-old college student, has two younger brothers. I re-read my suicide letter every year on my birthday as a reminder to be thankful – I am thankful I got a second chance at life.”
That’s the opening paragraph of an email I received last night from a reader named Kevin. His words remind me that sometimes you have to die a little on the inside first in order to be reborn and rise again as a stronger, smarter version of yourself.
People and circumstances will occasionally break you down. But if you keep your mind focused, your heart open to love, and continue to put one foot in front of the other, you can recover the pieces, rebuild, and come back much stronger and happier than you ever would have been otherwise.
Angel and I have dealt with our fair share of adversity over the years too – losing loved ones to illness, financial and business turmoil, etc. – and we’ve written a lot about it. But today, in light of Kevin’s email and a dozen other emails I’ve received this past week from readers who are struggling with hard times, I want to revisit and discuss seven key actions Angel and I take to find strength when everything seems to be going wrong.
1. Fully accept the reality of what is.
You cannot find peace by avoiding life. Life spins with unexpected changes every hour; so instead of avoiding it, take every change and experience as a challenge for growth. Either it will give you what you want or it will teach you what the next step is.
Finding peace and happiness in life does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, no challenges, and no hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things while remaining calm in your heart. It’s about letting go of the pictures in your head about how things were “supposed to be.”
Of course, this isn’t easy – it will be an ongoing struggle. But it’s infinitely easier than continuing to fight to conform your life to some antiquated delusion. It’s an infinitely more satisfying journey as well. When it’s working, when you can detach from those old images, there is peace, there is beauty, and there is happiness.
Honestly, life is too short to spend at war with yourself. The biggest disappointments in our lives are often the result of misplaced expectations. Letting go of needless expectations is your first step to happiness. Come from a mindset of peace and acceptance, and you can deal with almost anything and grow beyond it.
2. Remind yourself that everything in life is temporary.
Every time it rains, it stops raining. Every time you get hurt, you heal. After darkness there is always light – you are reminded of this every morning, but still you often forget, and instead choose to believe that the night will go on forever. It won’t. Nothing lasts.
So if things are good right now, enjoy it. It won’t last forever. If things are bad, don’t worry because it won’t last forever either. Just because life isn’t easy at the moment, doesn’t mean you can’t laugh. Just because something is bothering you, doesn’t mean you can’t smile. Every moment gives you a new beginning and a new ending. You get a second chance, every second. You just have to take it and make the best of it. (Read The Last Lecture.)
3. Push yourself to take another step, and another, no matter what.
After studying the lives of many successful people, I’m convinced that about half of what separates successful people from everyone else is pure perseverance. In a culture that seeks quick results, we must learn the beauty of effort, patience and perseverance. Be strong, present and steadfast.
The most beautiful smiles are usually the ones that struggled through the tears. Because breakdowns often lead to breakthroughs in the end. Every mistake, heartbreak and loss contains its own solution, its own subtle lesson on how to improve your performance and outcome next time. Thus, the most reliable way to predict the future is to create it yourself. Participate in life today instead of just watching it pass you by. Don’t let the few things that are out of your control interfere with the infinite assortment of things you can control.
The truth is we all lose sometimes. The greater truth is that no single loss ever defines us. Learn from your trials. Grow wiser. Press on.
In the end, good things don’t come to those who wait; good things come to those who are patient… while working hard, through good times and bad, for what they want most in life. It’s about courage. It’s about being scared to death and then taking the next step anyway.
4. Use positivity, rather than letting negativity use you.
There may not be an obvious reason to be positive today, but you don’t need a reason. Being positive is a strategy, not a response. The most powerful time to be positive is precisely when everything around you is not so positive.
Happiness in the long run is not the absence of problems, but the ability to deal with them. Raise your awareness to your own inner strength and positivity. You are in charge of how you react to the people and events in your life. You can either give negativity power over your life, or you can choose to be positive instead by focusing on the great things that are truly important. So talk about your blessings more than you talk about your problems today.
In other words, don’t wait for a reason to be positive. Choose to be positive about your situation, about your possibilities, and about what you can do to move forward from here. Instead of looking for reasons to be positive, look for ways to express your positive vision. Work to make your life resonate with that vision, and enjoy all the rewarding outcomes you create. (Read The Happiness Advantage.)
5. Focus on making tiny fixes.
Don’t build mountains in your mind. Don’t try to conquer the world all at once. When you seek instant gratification (big, quick fixes) you make life unnecessarily painful and frustrating. When you choose instead to treat each moment as an opportunity to make a tiny, positive investment in yourself, the rewards come naturally.
When everything is broken, it’s easy to find plenty of little things you can fix. When nothing seems to be going right, even the most fundamental positive effort can make a significant difference. Times of great adversity are also times of great opportunity. When there are problems in every direction, there is also great value waiting to be created. When everything is going well, it’s easy to get lulled into a routine of complacency. It’s easy to forget how incredibly capable and resourceful you can be. Resolve to persevere by making tiny fixes every day. It’s these minor tweaks that take you from where you are to where you want to be in the long run.
Small steps, little leaps, and tiny fixes (very small repetitive changes) every day will get you there, through thick and thin.
6. Look for something small to appreciate.
You may not have what you want, and you may be very hurt, but you still have more than enough to appreciate right now. Epicurus once said, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” Meditate on this quote when life seems unfair.
Remember that being positive in a negative situation is not naive; it’s a sign of leadership and strength. You’re doing it right when you have so much to cry and complain about, but you prefer to smile and appreciate your life instead. So don’t pray for the big miracles and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, simple, and yet not-so-small gifts in your life. It may seem strange to feel thankful for those events in your life that appear to be ordinary, yet it’s precisely by being thankful that you can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Think about it: What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you were thankful for today?
Think of all the beauty that still remains around you, notice it and smile.
At the end of the day, it’s not happiness that makes us thankful, but thankfulness that makes us happy. Showing appreciation for the good things you have is the most powerful happiness boosting activity there is.
7. Give yourself the extra attention you need and deserve.
Resisting and ignoring your own feelings and emotions does not serve you. It leads to stress, illness, confusion, broken relationships, fits of anger and bouts of deep, dark depression. Anyone who’s experienced any of the above knows that these states of mind are horrifically unhealthy… and when you’re in the habit of self-neglect, it’s near impossible to escape.
You have to admit, to a certain extent, you have spent too much of your life trying to shrink yourself. Trying to become smaller. Quieter. Less sensitive. Less opinionated. Less needy. Less YOU. Because you didn’t want to be too much or push people away. You wanted to fit in. You wanted people to like you. You wanted to make a good impression. You wanted to be wanted.
So for years, you sacrificed yourself for the sake of making other people happy. And for years, you suffered.
But you’re tired of suffering, and you’re done shrinking. Right? Good!
It’s not your job to change who you are in order to become someone else’s idea of a worthwhile human being. You are worthwhile. Not because other people think you are, but because you are breathing your own air, and therefore you matter. Your thoughts matter. Your feelings matter. Your voice matters. And with or without anyone’s approval or permission, you must be who you are and live your truth. Even if it makes people turn their heads. Even if it makes them uncomfortable. Even if they choose to leave.
Refuse to shrink. Choose to take up lot of space in your own life. Choose to give yourself permission to meet your own needs. Choose to honor your feelings and emotions. Choose to make self-care a top priority…
Choose yourself! (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Self-Love” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
I can tell you from my own life experience that life is a wild ride. I’ve found happiness, lost it, found it, lost it and then I found it once again.
But each time what I found was more incredible than the last.
So remember that everyone suffers in life at some point. Everyone feels lost sometimes. The key is using your experiences to grow, inch by inch. When you apply what you’re learning to your future choices and actions, you move forward not backward. You become stronger and wiser. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it in the end.
What helps you stay motivated when you’re stressed and struggling? What’s something positive you try to keep in mind when everything seems to be going wrong? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Photo by: Jessica Neuwerth
“I thought my life was a tragedy until I realized I had a choice.” This is probably my all time favorite saying I picked up from one of your older e-newsletters. It reminds me to not feel trapped. Even if I consider my primary options as ‘not at all viable’ I still have other options. And I can always choose to make a change of some kind if I don’t like where I am at. Even if it’s just changing my attitude or perspective. Thank you for another powerful reminder.
Marsha Lee says
This made me cry. I am going through a lot right now. I’m 31 and life is just a mess from every aspect: love life, family, work and a bestie going through double mastectomy. The past year has been the hardest ever everything has been going wrong and it wont stop. I am always the happiest and funniest when I’m in front of others. If they only knew…
Thank you for this post.
I have been in a rut the past several years, at least when I look at my list of things that I wanted to achieve. I was extremely excited to start working again in August, after a long break. I thought I had conquered some big things, and this new job would be my way to start over. Well, I was never more surprised when I received a separation agreement last week. Sorry, let me correct myself, I was never more surprised when I was let go, and yet strong enough to pick myself up and start looking for a new job, and kept my sadness in perspective (mostly), and smiled at my friends and family (well, smiled, maybe with the occasional tear…I’m not perfect at this yet!).
I loved this article (and the Adversity chapter in your book which I read last week) because it speaks of strength, and facing your disappointments with a healthy perspective, and allowing that healthy perspective to get you through the negative, and into the positive. I am looking forward to looking back at this event, with more wisdom, compassion, and strength under my belt. Stay strong everyone 🙂
Melissa Watson says
The arts seems to inspire me to keep moving forward. Listening to some soft Celtic music while painting/reading, or just laying in a dark room, it lulls me to sleep. Something about Celtic music just makes me feel better. Could be my Irish roots I guess.
I have been trying to break away from a guy, who serves no purpose in my life. Its been very hard for me. He started a relationship off of false pretenses. He had a girlfriend the whole time. I just wish I could take the pain away. Thanks for this post.
I needed this. Thank you. x
John Doe says
I literally saw, opened, and read this article while my mind took me through all the crap that was piling up in front of me. From a very demanding and stressful job, assignments due for grad school, aging parents on dialysis and with possible cancer. Thank you for the calming and reassuring perspectives so I can sleep. Great timing.
Nice one Marc! I am in the midst of unhappiness – I mean there are many things that could possibly make me think all day about how bad my life is right at this moment, but this post has just reminded me to remain calm and keep on being positive while working on those improving things that are making me feel bad. Thank you.
Angelo Limon says
Interesting story, I am touched!
When I’m stressed and struggling, I motivate myself. I always get myself to relax and believe that everything must come to pass and better day is right around the corner.
Thank you Marc and Angel for another great article and reminder. This one really resonates with me right now and it couldn’t be more timely. Reading this reminds me that I am not alone in my struggles and I can choose to either resist and complain, or use this time to grow.
Again, thank you for all you do!
Angelo Limon says
Interesting post. I am really touched by your story!
We all have been through some kind of struggle in life at different levels.
What keeps me going is, knowing that a better day is around the corner.
Maybe this can help one of you readers – it did me a great favor: angelolimon.com/what-does-it-mean-to-have-faith-in-yourself/
It’s amazing what reading information how asserting oneself can be so helpful. The sharing that individuals share by their statements is another step in pushing and guiding us of the mountain of life.
I am so grateful to have discovered your book. Right now along with my spiritual life it is a giant step and aiding me to push forward.
Hi Marc and Angel,
Thanks a lot for your wonderful post!
For me the being positive strategy is the best strategy for living a happy and fulfilling life.
What keeps me motivated at times of struggle is that each and every thing that happens to me is good for me. Each and every one advances me. Teaches me a mind blowingly valuable lesson.
I’m a religious person. I believe that god is good, and every single thing he does is good. And each thing that we consider as a hardship actually brings us closer to this great good. Even if we don’t see the WHY right now.
“It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it” / The book of Jeremiah
It doesn’t say “saved from it”, but “saved out of it”. It’s on purpose. And it withholds a wonderful lesson.
That each struggle that we face holds within it a salvation.
Moreover, the struggle itself IS the salvation. Pushing us forward, out of our comfort zone. Into the path of self fulfillment.
Which is a good thing by itself.
Tammi C. Walker says
I am not sure if one article can top the other because all of the material you both provide is so amazing. This one really hit home for me. I spent some years quite unhappy but found peace after going through cancer in 2007. I am feeling amazing now. Thank you for sharing and being transparent. You are helping many. Tammi C. – Chicago
Sunil Gurjar says
This is the place online where where I get answers of my doubts , fears and questions. Thanks Marc and Angel being there.
Whenever I’m stressed and struggling I ask the following questions to myself:
– Is it really necessary to feel low ?
– How long i can continue to be trapped ?
– Can anything other than me stop me from achieving my goal?
When I start to become overwelmed with life, my shortcomings, my failures, that is when I realize that it is time for me to help or give to someone who definitely has life much worse than I do. I donate, I volunteer, I give….then I am blessed.
Chavonne Perotte says
Once again you guys have shared perspectives that can be life-changing. I especially love the point that being positive is a strategy, not a response. That’s so hard for people when they are stuck in what’s not working. Sometimes you have to just push through and choose to see the bright side, choose to be loving, choose to be vulnerable even when it hurst, because eventually it will feel amazing. Thank you so much for all you contribute to the world in general and to my life specifically.
Thanks – when I’m on the edge of a bad place, as i have been lately – things like this help, remembering to keep moving, to do the next thing, that I have choices. Gives me the courage to go on
I am currently going through a dark time in my life, and this article appears to be speaking directly to me. It seems like most of your articles are speaking to me lately. Thank you for that.
I have a marriage soon ending, and unexpected expenses along with lawyer’s fees, and children involved. It is very difficult. I look forward to your encouraging articles every time. Keep them coming, they are very helpful.
Again a Great Post! I am recovering from a motorbike accident happened 3 years back. I am not able to use my right arm after that accident since the nerves root avulsion happened for that arm. I had gone through 5 major surgeries including different muscle and nerve transfer surgeries. However I have started my work 6 months after of the accident using my left arm and still I am continuing the same.
I am regularly reading your blog from past 6 months, it is really wonderful and very much motivating.
I have habit of over-thinking and more self talk including positive and negative matters. While self talk I will argue myself assuming I was discussing and opposing my views with some others who may be close to me or argued on the related topics or even the peoples I never talked and having some different view on those topics (example: politicians who done debates on TV). I know this is the way currently I am creating my views on different topics. By arguing this way there is some gap was build on my mind with those persons who were part of my self talk arguments. Could you (anyone) please suggest how can I change this habit of self talk and view creation in better a way without imaginary debates with others who are not at all aware or worried about me? It will be really helpful to my personal growth.
This past Monday, a job that could have been mine slipped through my hands. I was this close to getting it, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I’ve been out of a job for nearly a year. I cried my eyes out all day that Monday. Conversations with friends throughout the day were punctuated with tears. I though my life was over. On Tuesday morning, I got up, took a shower, and smiled. And laughed. All day. I thought I was nuts for feeling that way, but surprisingly, it felt really good. “The most beautiful smiles are usually the ones that struggled through the tears. ” No truer words have been that much meaningful to me these last few months. It does get better, and a positive attitude through adversity does make life easier. Thank you so very much for this article. I’ll hold it dear to my heart.
I shed tears while reading this article – I felt like you had read all what was in my mind…I feel encouraged. Thanks very much.
David Rapp says
I have let myself go for too long…and only now am I realizing how far gone I HAVE gone. I refound a simple bookmark that I bought with my son. Its says “If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission.” Its still on my desk right next to my mouse and in front of my phone as I type this message.
I also bought a few motivational items as well.
But the bottom line is this…by NOT taking care of myself, my family is suffering. They see it more that I ever realized. The only person I ever fooled was myself.
When you are in crisis mode, and it all seems overwhelming, and your go-to plans fail…its pretty easy to commit to the catastrophe. But another way to look at it is a 3 step process:
Survive: get through it
Revive: retool, re-evaluate, recalculate, restore
Thrive: get over it
People gloss over the Revive portion. Its not really called out in this post, maybe I just missed it. But to me its the most crucial step in the process, the one I ignore because its the emotional, psychological, mental, and even spiritual part that hurts so much.
I hope this helps.
Just choosing to keep my faith in God does wonders.
Thank you for such an uplifting post this morning. I will admit, I’ve had better mornings, and today my insecurities got the best of me in the worst way. Reading this reassured me that life isn’t so bad and focusing so much on the negatives isn’t worth it.
Thank you again Marc! Words well spoken and they have definitely helped in making my morning a little brighter.
Great article…I went through a near life ending experience, a messy divorce, job loss, and friendship mutiny, all in the run of about a year and half…this article resonated with me as the things that got me through were pushing to get better, finally putting myself as a the top priority and really appreciating what I had. I spent so much of my adult life making everyone else happy and I was stretched so thin, I really lost myself. To my complete and utter shock, when I really needed my ‘friends’ they turned on me, which hurt me even more because of how much I had sacrificed myself for them…I now look at this period in my life as a true blessing, I found out who my real friends were, got away from the people who were toxic in my life, reinvented myself into a better version of me and now I have a dream job and met the girl I have always been looking for…I read your website daily and it truly has been a great help.
Wow, this article made me cry. This really touched a nerve with me.
Thank you!! I am printing it and putting it where I can read it until I get it!!!
This article really hit home. Wonderfully written and very real on a deep level.
Thank you so much for this post! I can encourage others from my own experience of being a people-pleaser for YEARS that one of the BEST things a person can do for his/herself is “#7 – Give yourself the extra attention you need and deserve.” I learned after years of being self-sacrificing in order to meet the needs of others (spouse, children, friends, etc.) that I was feeling unhappy because those folks weren’t reciprocating with the same kindnesses, thoughtfulness, time investment, etc. When I started taking time for myself – daily spiritual devotions, extra personal care, hobbies, interests, reading for pleasure – an amazing thing happened. Well, two amazing things happened. First, I felt happier, more at peace with myself; more fulfilled. The second thing that happened is the people who I was sacrificing for the most were upset that I had “withdrawn.” The initial backlash to my new self-care was eye-opening and uncomfortable at the time – but today my boundaries are respected and I am so much happier on the inside! I will never go back to being a people pleaser!!
Great post once again!
I especially liked #7-Give Yourself The Extra Attention…
I am in a highly stressful job with an employer that seems to have abandoned their employees for the almighty dollar by installing a “new system that is supposed to make our jobs easier”.
What it has done is triple the workload that is absolutely soul crushing. I felt that I had to “suck it up” as I am alone in life and just continue on and do “the best I can” words from my manager who is also struggling.
This post has helped me make a decision that I have to take a leave to do some self-care and not worry about the words said behind my back. I was having a real fear of going to my doctor and letting all my feelings and emotions out as I felt it was a “weakness” to admit I am faltering at the moment……Thank you for this very timely post.
I am so glad I came across Marc and Angel’s website. They are always so inspirational and uplifting. I have a notebook filled with a lot of their quotes.
Larry Hochman says
No matter how many ways this is said, the truth endures…
One step at a time. You can see bigger when you’re in the middle of it.
Sherman Smith says
Yes we all go through those ups and downs, but one thing I find is that we limit ourselves through our thinking as you mentioned. Nothing lasts forever. Everything is temporary and subject to change.
The one thing that’s been consistently helping me is to stop, clear my mind and to just live in the moment. It’s like getting back to the rhythm and frame of mind which is who you originally were before the world told you who you should be and how we were conditioned.
Through this method I stop thinking about the past or the future. There is no time, but just is. Another method that’s been helping me with this is doing Yoga exercises for balancing. You truly have to clear you mind above all to do the different balancing positions on one leg at a time. When you’re doing yoga it helps to reconnect with your original self.
Recently diagnosed with heart failure. On meds but sounds and feels pretty bad. Self-employed and would have said retirement is NOT an option. Now lack of energy and illness have allowed me time to read and meditate. Doors are opening in my heart and mind first and I’m excited to see where they lead. I’ve always lived by the maxim that everything always works out for the best. Indeed. It will.
“Everything is gonna be all right.”
That’s what i say to myself, when the things go wrong.
Another great post at just the right time, and I know not written just for me, but wow, I read it for me.
Have been being more positive with my self talk. I write in a journal, that helps me a lot. Am able to turn the negative into positive thoughts.
I am finally able to realize that everything wrong is not my fault. I am worthy, I am loving, I am caring, and I am liking myself again.
Thank you so much. I appreciate your readers comments as well. This is so wonderful. Common sense, yes, but sometimes you need to hear it from others.
I hate it when people quote songs for inspiration. But every once in a while, a lyric sums it all up perfectly:
You’re stuck in a moment, and you can’t get out of it.
Whenever I’m faced with hopelessness, I remember that line.
Perfect timing finding this article.
Thanks guys once again. I couldn’t have read this at a better time. Tough times and life changing events in many ways have brought me to an all time low. This read has given me the strength to move forward and stay positive.
Sandy Tanner says
Loved this article. So many amazing, inspiring and comforting thoughts.
When I’ve felt at rock bottom I remember the line, “I pretend to live until the desire to live comes back.” Ive found it helps me to just relax for a bit and accept the current situation, and stop putting any pressure on myself to feel happy if it’s just not there. It also reminds me that it’s temporary.
Thank you for this article.
I felt you put your heart into this post. Thank you!
Its an wonderful post. As a career coach, my clients often ask whether they accept new job and my answer is always embrace little bit of discomfort to discover real you.
Thank you very much. The rebirth process is very painful. That is really true and very well explained. I understand it very well, while I am a woman who has given birth to my 2 kids.
Now my kids are all my happiness.
I now leave everything to God!!! Since the moment I started to believe in God and have a direct and honest communication and opened my heart to him, my life and my family´s life changed too.
“Being positive is a strategy, not a response.”
Thank you for that gem!
Maladaptive Hero says
Hey! I found your post heart warming and it really got me thinking about the way I live my life, sure were all on that “wild ride” but sometimes it’s easier to get lost in the madness of it all!
I’m really happy i stumbled across your blog it’s nice to know that there are people out there thinking the same thing’s as me and I’m not on my own.
I’m 2 months sober so reminding myself that everything is temporary is a big thing for me. Just knowing that my thoughts are temporary is enough for me 🙂
Keep it up guys!
WOW.. #4 “Happiness in the long run is not the absence of problems..But the ability to deal with them”. How true…None of us on this planet are immune from “Problems.” We are all subjected to them. The trick is to develop a way to always get a grip on them to where they never get you down long enough so you cant get up…And never lose thought of that old saying..”There are better days ahead.”
Thank you for this article. I’m facing a lot of adversity in life right now, and this helped a little with giving me a different perspective. I’ve put an elderly parent in a nursing home, had my older brother die suddenly, and I’m now dealing with the aftermath left from each of those events. I’ve come to the realization that what I thought was contentment was complacency, and my professional life is suffering the consequences of that. I’m also losing my hearing and I’m scared to death thinking about how I’m going to get by when it’s gone. I do pretty good most days, but it’s that anxiety that comes in the wee hours of the night that I struggle with. I read each of your newsletters and try to find something in each one that I can apply to my life. Thanks for providing these, you’ve helped me get through my day on numerous occasions.
Thanks for this beautiful post Marc.
It would have been my Dad’s 63rd birthday today, had he not died suddenly of a heart attack 7 years ago. The sadness and loss never goes away, but it does change, and get easier to bear. And that horrible, difficult, tragic event was a catalyst for many other more positive changes in my life, as it reminded me in a cold, clear way that our time here is limited, and that it’s made up of shades of dark and light, and that’s never going to change.
I found spending time alone to recharge and let myself feel some of the waves of emotion without judgement was helpful, as well as being careful about how I listened to others’ well-meaning, but sometimes inappropriate advice. As you say, we need to find the strength from within our own core rather than outside sources.
I found that even on the darkest days, there might be something of the light I could appreciate. A friend making me supper, a hug from a family member, a cup of fresh coffee drunk alone in the sunlight in the park. Actively looking for the light helped to put the dark into perspective, and eventually, I had days where the light out shone the dark.
Thank you for reminding us of Epicurus, the Greek Buddha !