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5 Better Ways to Deal With Disappointment

... and why being hard on yourself isn't part of the solution.

Source: DmZ/Shutterstock

When people marry, they are usually determined to make it through thick and thin, impervious to divorce and discontent, even though two out of five couples will separate and only 30 percent will enjoy a happy marriage.1 Nearly 80 percent of people have an optimism bias when it comes to personal success and attributes.2 So naturally, feelings of disappointment hit us hard when things turn sour. How do we return to a sweeter disposition after suffering disappointments? Letting go is an essential component to happiness, but how can we actually let go?

Placing hope on our environment—where it is more difficult to feel optimistic due to our innate negative bias—can also cause devastating feelings of disappointment. For example, let’s say we engage in the political process and start believing in a better future and a promising political candidate. And then he or she loses the election. How can we possibly let go of such disappointment and not fantasize about moving to another galaxy—or at least to Canada? Everyone talks about “letting go” but little is said about what enables us to do so. Letting go is expected but rarely taught.

When we cannot let go after what is seen as a culturally appropriate period, people may label us crybabies or sore losers. Few will say it directly, but when we're stuck being disappointed, these are the messages we often receive: “Get real and get with it.” “Just let go.” And finally, “Move on already, will you?”

So, let's look at the “how” of letting go a bit more kindly, with less judgment and more creativity.

Let’s say milk is spilled. “Not a problem,” says the person who does not really need the milk, unlike the one who does, especially when she identifies a pattern of unnecessary spills caused by those who do not need the milk. While the former just takes a deep breath, picks up a rag and wipes off the milk, the latter tends to have an emotional response. And when she is starving, the response tends to linger longer.

Obviously it is the individual inner and outer realities which make rolling with the punches an easy or challenging task. Nobody on the outside knows what spilled milk means to your life. Maybe you don’t even know yourself. So the first step may just be to...

Be empathetic and mindful. Do not beat yourself up; claim your experience without judgment. Plenty of people pounce on opportunities to put others down. Don’t do their job for them. Instead, stand by you and be your own best friend. Claim your experience as one that's generated by you for good reason. Just looking at yourself with kind attention can loosen your rigidities. Beyond that...

Ask good questions. What exactly triggered your emotions? What does the disappointment really mean to you? Are you partially agreeing with the person who disappointed you? What would you or the world be like if you let go of your negative feelings? Do you think someone is helped by your holding on? Continue to be mindful during the inquiry. When this does not suffice...

Reframe and gain perspective. Coming back to the milk analogy, are you exaggerating somehow, reacting to the spilled milk as though you're starving when you aren’t? Sometimes we believe ourselves too much, focusing on the transitional negative as if it were the whole picture. Sometimes all we need to do is tell ourselves a better, more complete story.

Focus is immensely important when we try to gain perspective. When my favored political candidate loses, I switch gears, refocus, and reframe. Instead of focusing on a particular election, I focus on living in a democracy or improving the nation. Also, I never completely sever myself from the widest of all perspectives: The union of all things, the miracle of life. Leaning on something greater than ourselves and accessing what I refer to as the "Supreme Mode" of consciousness can be learned, as laid out in A Unified Theory of Happiness. Even though perspective is practically everything...

You can also wash sorrow out with joy. This is a Chinese proverb I've come to cherish. Sometimes we need to focus on the good and divert our attention from the bad. While I am a strong believer in “facing and embracing” our truth, sometimes smelling the roses when we don’t quite feel like it can work miracles. Along these lines...

Change something you can. When the milk is spilled, the milk is spilled. Nothing can be done about the past. But maybe there is something we can do in the now. Doing something positive when feeling stuck has the power to yank us out of the mud. “If you feel discouraged, encourage someone else,” a wise person once said. Lost an election? Clean up your backyard. Feeling hurt? Join a gym. This is not denying a problem, but getting your system going again by starting a ripple effect in an area of your life that does not seem to relate to the original disappointment. As everything is somehow connected, the waves we trigger with one simple action may eventually remove the obstacles to the flow of life once more.3

Sounds True
Source: Sounds True


  1. Of course there are things you can do to save your marriage.
  2. A great Ted talk on the optimist bias.
  3. My post on how to create a ripple effect.

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© 2016 Andrea F. Polard, PsyD. All Rights Reserved.

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