3 Steps to Overcoming Difficult Times and Increasing Your Joy

Life is full of setbacks and hard times. It’s not about avoiding the experiences. Instead focus on living fully and navigating the difficult times by cultivating resiliency in these 3 steps.

As we continue to turn around the sun and move closer to the spring equinox the natural light continues to lengthen each day. Metaphorically we can capitalize on this concept and work to increase the “light” in our own lives. 

Finding the light in our own lives requires that we practice activities we enjoy. This can be difficult during hard times and many struggle to allow themselves to feel joy at all. Joy can be the hardest emotion to feel because people worry “this good thing” will end. As a result they cap the enjoyment they can feel. They fear the pain of disappointment so much they contain joy. Doesn’t that sound awful … but most of us do it. 

I have worked with so many people who work to never feel sadness and disappointment. They have been operating in a numbed existence, the middle between joy and sadness, “to be safe” and “not get their hopes up” thus making sure they are protected. Problem … by protecting themselves from the pain of sadness and disappointment they are also protecting themselves from the full feelings of joy. Life becomes mundane, lackluster, and boring. The fix? Stop being afraid of engaging fully – in every emotion that shows up. 

Sadness and disappointment are about losing. They help us see how much we cared, what we value, and as a result add richness to our lives. This is why life becomes lackluster when we cap them off. We lose the vibrancy all experiences can provide by holding back full emotional engagement

Joy, different than happiness, comes from within. By cultivating practices we enjoy we build a deep wellspring of contentment and joy bubbles up. We begin to find small things that contribute to “living the good life”. We find pieces of each experience, no matter how painful, that bring lessons and some good (even if tiny) into our lives. Happiness follows as we continue to engage in activities where we find positive aspects. Happiness tends to be fleeting based on external factors and experiences we are engaged in. When we cultivate the activities that bring us joy and work to find the positive in every situation happiness follows regularly. 

eMeals

Now let’s talk about when awful things happen. So many people I work with and see in my office are going through difficult times. Something has happened, they grew up in difficult situations, or have been taught to negate good in their lives. Over time this leads to feelings of despair and thoughts like “what’s the point anyway” and “it’ll never work out the way I want it to”. Soon they are repeating the mantra of “play it safe” directly and/or indirectly. As outlined above this just decreases the ability to feel joy and find vibrant exciting experiences in life. They hunker down and just get through it. 

Some people struggle here because they are going through a very difficult experience that has shook the core of who they think they are and how they view the world. Thus making it hard to focus on anything good happening right now, and forcing them into the pain of loss and disappointment. Although, not easy, these experiences offer rich ground to work with joy, sadness, disappointment, expectations, and personal empowerment.

When something difficult strikes it is important to honor how you feel. Maybe you are angry, sad, guilty, disbelieving, or feeling shameful about the situation. Honor those difficult feelings and allow yourself to feel them. They exist to tell you this is important and you need to pay attention. Maybe a loss has shown you that you need to pay more attention to the relationships you are currently involved in. Maybe your guilt is telling you never to behave like that again. Shame is harder as it involves a belief system that you are “bad” and often comes as a result of external factors (childhood emotional trauma, emotional neglect, social system paradigms, etc) and may need therapy to help shift old messages about what is right, wrong, good, and bad as they relate to your personhood. Disbelief is part of the grief cycle and can shake our sense of safety and reality in the world while we go through the grief cycle itself. 

As you work with the situation at hand, the first step is to honor where you are, then accept the situation as it is. this is very difficult and many struggle with this step. Often the situation is not one they wanted, expectations shattered, future plans destroyed, however it is important to work on accepting to the best of your ability. Once you can accept the situation as it is, right now, right here, you have more choice on how to deal with it. Again, you do not have to like the situation, want it, agree with it, or approve of it, you just have to accept it. 

The position of acceptance creates room to respond in the most healthy way you can muster. This creates a sense of personal empowerment and taking steps with empowerment builds self esteem and confidence. As you build self esteem and confidence you build your ability to deal with difficult situations. The cycle becomes a positive one to help you deal with life on life’s terms in the most healthy ways possible right now. 

This week, while we move toward longer days of light, work on cultivating your joy. Work to build activities into your life you enjoy. Then allow yourself to fully and wholeheartedly enjoy them. If you are going through something difficult work on honoring, accepting, and turning toward choices that empower you to move through in the most healthy way you can. Whatever your situation right now, work to be fully in it, without capping it off to “play it safe” and avoid negative feelings. Allow yourself the gift of vibrant and intense human experience. 

Friday Flow: Road Trip Conversations

Ever had that road trip where all you heard was “how much longer”? Today work on flipping how you interact in the car. Use this time to connect and get to know each other better.

I’m road trippin’ today in one of my many forays following my kids (or taxiing them) around for sporting events. We are working to beat the next snow storm headed into the Rockies. Since we are on the topic of communication this week, let’s talk about the beauty of being present to people in the car with you, because that is not always easy.

There is something pretty special about these private spaces for developing relationship and working through aspects of personal communication, building deeper knowledge of each other, and finding new music to jam to in between random topics that arise as a result of exploring the world from behind a windshield. Here are some of the fun topics that have arisen within my vehicle as the miles pass by:

  • What beef jerky is the best & why
  • Books we are currently reading
  • Levels of snowfall
  • Tiny homes
  • Salt lakes
  • Music choices
  • Work tasks
  • Dinner options 
  • Finding friends
  • Places to visit when the kids move out
  • Ways to do said travel – RVs vs Camper Vans vs Air BnB, & which countries
  • The benefits of shaving with shaving cream
  • And … How much tea is left & where to get more ice

Of course you can always engage in a variety of other road trip activities. I’ve scrapbooked, we’ve enjoyed a variety of movies, coloring, playing I Spy, and my personal favorite … the license plate game. One time I got all but one state. That was a long ride and quite the accomplishment … I still hold the family title, and I do not think they’ll ever beat me.

Good Leaders Are Kind …

Afraid if you are not “tough” enough people will not follow? Being tough does not mean dominating or bullying. The most effective leaders are those who express compassion. They just know sometimes compassion looks like “no”. They do not berate, belittle, steal ideas, or micromanage their team. They trust them. They get quality followers because they are a quality leader. Go be a great leader today.

13 Ways to Give … The Spiritual Side of Service

Want to know the secret to happiness? Get outside of yourself. When we reach out to others and help make someone else’s life better we actually help ourselves. Acts of service help you stay healthy – mentally and physically. Get out there and help today.

Many religious and spiritual practices speak of service. Service is a key piece of 12 step programs and many say they didn’t really get sober until they were able to give back. It was the act of service that helped them realize the bigger picture and reason for sobriety. Most of us talk a good game regarding service, however many of us do not perform much service.

One reason we do not offer acts of service as much as we might like is because we haven’t set our lives up to give back. It takes time more than anything and it’s much easier to write a check than it is to spend the day working with someone who needs help. Work to structure time to give back into your life. It will make your life more purposeful and help fight diseases, depression, anxiety, and stress in your own life.

Another reason we skip the service aspect is because we do not know what to do. We feel that it must be BIG to be any good, and the opposite is really true. It is the small, everyday acts of grace and kindness that make the greatest differences in our lives and those we reach out to. These small acts help us realize we are not alone. They help us feel connected and part of something larger than ourselves. Again, keeping us more healthy over the long haul.

Today challenge yourself to perform as many acts of service to another as you can. A little secret is … when you work to make others happy, you actually make yourself happy. The Dali Lama says “if you want others to be happy, be compassionate. If you want to be happy, be compassionate”. Today make your goal to give as much as you can. See how happy you can make yourself by helping others. Notice how doing nice things for other people changes you, gives you different perspective, or helps you see something you hadn’t noticed before. When we give to others we begin to see how similar we are, not how different. We are more the same than not. It’s hard to hate others when you realize this. When you hate less or fear others ideas, actions, and motivations less your life gets better. You start to see the beauty that surrounds you instead of all the things you negatively judge.

Here are some ideas to get out there, get connected, and offer help:

  1. Hold the door open for someone
  2. Smile at everyone you meet
  3. Give the driver in front of you the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Listen. Really listen as your partner, kids, or co-worker talks to you – without coming up with your response while they speak.
  5. Shovel, cut the grass, rake, sweep the sidewalk for your neighbor. You are already doing your own, just go a little farther.
  6. Teach something to someone who wants to learn what you already know how to do. Be patient and let them learn at their own pace. Work to enjoy watching their progress as a support person not the director.
  7. Play with your dog, your kid, your friend … go out have a good time and laugh and laugh and laugh.
  8. Tell your family and friends how much they mean to you. Maybe even send them a handwritten note, flowers, or let them know in another way that would be special to them.
  9. Offer to help with the car pool, cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc for a group you are a part of, a friend, neighbor, or your family member who usually does those tasks.
  10. Read to someone – a kid, a person who can no longer read for themselves due to failing eyesight or other disease, or someone who never learned to read.
  11. Volunteer in your community. Many communities have a volunteer listing where organizations list what they need help with. Look it up and volunteer your skill set to help them out.
  12. Help set up a fundraising event for a group you are interested in. Big commitment, but it sure feels good when you come together with a team of people and accomplish something for the greater good.
  13. Do something nice for yourself. You can’t take care of anyone, if you haven’t taken care of you first. Make sure to include yourself on your acts of service list. It helps you be a better person, less stressed, and ready to help others if you have been taken care of too. Do not forget about you.