Five ways to stay positive and overcome hardship

Andrew MacDonald
Managing Editor
Good News

It's a fact of life that at some point, people encounter hardship.

Whether it's the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, unemployment, or illness, difficult circumstances form an inevitable part of the human experience.

"Losing things and people that are very important to us (such as a job, a loved one, or even a relationship), can provoke an unwanted change in our lives, which can actually cause trauma," says Toronto-based psychotherapist Kimberly Moffit.

But this inevitability doesn't have to derail your life. In fact, sadness often forces us to become more introspective as we learn how to cope with whatever the universe throws our way.

"It is absolutely possible to stay positive throughout difficult circumstances," she adds. "These events may not necessarily be happy; however, training your brain to view events in a different, more positive way has been proven to minimize the effects of trauma, grief, and even sadness."

Here are five ways to stay happy through sad circumstances.

Paying gratitude
You may not feel very thankful when your luck hits the skids, but it's important not to let a temporary circumstance erase everything that's still good in your life.

"Practicing the art of gratitude is the number one way to getting through the tough times," says Moffit. "Be thankful for what we do have instead of focusing negative energy on what's gone wrong. For example, if you've been fired, make a list of things that you're fantastic at in a professional setting. By focusing on what you're great at, you'll increase your self-esteem, and your outlook for finding a new job can actually feel exciting."

Whether you keep a journal or write a list and tape it to your mirror, these consistent reminders will keep the positive at the top of your brain.

Paint your blues away
There's a reason arts-based therapy programs are popping up in hospitals: Studies show the effectiveness of creative expression, both in the healing process, and in maintaining a positive outlook.

"Tapping into your creativity is a wonderful way to feel happy and relieve past traumas. Activities like making music, painting, and writing not only help us to feel youthful and spunky, but they can actually act as 'therapy' for our brains because they feel so amazingly cathartic and soothing," says Moffit.

Joining a musical theatre troupe or a group photography class can also provide the social aspects of a supportive group — and a safe place beyond your shower to belt out Broadway standards.

Lend a hand
Sometimes the best way to get out of your own head — and keep perspective — is by helping the less fortunate.

"I often recommend [volunteering] to clients who are in the later stages of a tough life situation. The best form of volunteering that I recommend is people-oriented. For example, helping out with children (whether special needs or not), animals at the humane society, at a soup kitchen, or even at a local YMCA can help you to feel love, compassion, drive and passion," she says.

Check local volunteer sites for a way to ease your spirits, and boost someone else's in the process.

Break a sweat
While a pair of sneakers won't solve all your troubles, burning a little rubber (and a lot of calories) can go a long way.

"Sometimes in life we are so caught up with thinking and analyzing that exercise can help bring us back to the good feeling of physical activity," says Moffit. "Secondly, exercise can increase our self-esteem and body confidence, which helps us move through tough times."

Start with a walk around the block and work your way up to a light sweat. If the endorphins work their magic, you'll find yourself craving the exercise … and feeling better as a result.

Boost your brain
You may have a hard time focusing anything else after a painful breakup, but engaging in a cerebral pursuit may be just what the doctor ordered.

"Boosting your brain is a great way to remain busy and engage your mind with new challenges and rewards. My best advice is to get out into the real world: by taking a class or joining a new group, you are surrounding yourself with new people. Talking, engaging, and receiving positive feedback are great ways to lift your spirits and help you move past the difficult event," Moffit recommends.

Even if you can't get out to the latest museum exhibit, start with a simple crossword puzzle. Like physical exercise, any intellectual stimulation will give you a noticeable lift, and a sorely needed hit of confidence.

Of course, these suggestions aren't meant to be a cure-all. For anyone who feels emotionally blocked, isolated, depressed, or worse, Moffit recommends seeking outside help.

"It doesn't hurt to be careful, in order to ensure that your negative experience is a positive as possible. Professionals give you the tools you need to lessen the impact of a life experience, and it is never a shameful thing to do."