Not only is life hard, it can unexpectedly become harder. One day we might be comfortably cruising along, and then suddenly it seems like everything is going wrong: Your marriage is in a shambles, or you’ve just discovered that you’re not as financially stable as you thought, or you suddenly lose a lover, friend, or family member. The world has changed. Everything seems ominous and uncertain.
That’s when you can fall into the trap of pessimism and negativity. It may seem like the natural thing to do given what you’re going through. How can we work on building a healthy and optimistic way of living when we’re overcome with pain, anxiety, and fear? But no matter how hard things become, there are ways to approach your situation that can make it less burdensome.
Here are four ways to stay positive when life gets you down:
Express Gratitude. Be mindful about what you do have, whether it’s a fantastic friend or a wonderful partner. Try making a list of things you’re grateful for every night for two weeks. It can be even more powerful to express gratitude to someone who you feel truly thankful for. Write them a letter telling them how they have helped you. Additionally, try to cultivate a sense of gratitude in everyday life for things both major and minor. Thank that stranger who goes a little out of his way to hold the door open for you. Appreciating the good in the world can change the way you look at life.
Volunteer. Take your awareness outside of yourself and focus it on the wellbeing of others. This may not be possible if you’re in crisis mode, but it can be very helpful if you’re increasingly preoccupied by your own negative thoughts. Many studies have shown that community service and philanthropy are more satisfying over the long term than focusing on your problems. Try volunteering at your local library, homeless shelter or hospital. You can become less focused on the bad stuff you’ve been dealing with—and even form a connection with others in the process.
Notice the Good. It might seem nearly impossible to find the silver lining in a burdensome situation, but it can be helpful. Maybe you’ve gone through some personal growth and change because of what’s happened, or you’ve become closer to someone.
Change Negative Self-Talk. It’s way too easy to think the same negative thoughts over and over again. However, you can learn to change this by doing some cognitive-behavioral therapy on yourself. When you notice yourself having a negative thought about yourself, replace it with a positive one. If you find yourself thinking “It’s all my fault” or “I’m not good enough,” stop and remind yourself of how well you’ve been coping and how others appreciate you.
The bottom line on becoming and remaining optimistic: We can’t change what happens to us or to loved ones, but we can change how we react to it. And though that process may take some time, it’s worth it because of the joy and peace of mind optimism can bring.