Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Happiness: Adaptation to Change

The happiest people you will ever see are those who are adaptable to change.

Key points

  • Change is inevitable, and when it comes, it can be fast, difficult, and even shocking.
  • Much of people's suffering comes from not dealing well with change. The key is to learn to adapt.
  • Sudden changes can only "rock one's world" if they are unexpected. Expecting change helps people find ways to make it work.
Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev (Pexels)
Source: Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev (Pexels)

If one day in the future you are visited by a powerful being and are offered a single wish, what would it be? Mind you, it can be whatever you want. This includes power, money, a special title, or anything else you wish. And maybe ask yourself a question before making that wish:

“When I’m taking my last breath, can I look back and say that my life was good?”

Here’s a suggestion: Wish for the ability to adapt to change. That is a good wish.

A universal rule

Why is there so much emphasis on change? Why does change make such a difference in the outcome of your life? Well, there is one rule we all face. We cannot get away from it, and there is nothing we can do to alter this rule. It’s the fact that life changes, and few things stay the same.

While some things may not drastically change, change is inevitable. We may live with our parents for years, we may spend a large portion of our lives in a relationship, or we may find a fulfilling career that provides stability for decades. But change will still come. Sometimes we can control these changes, but oftentimes we cannot. When the change comes, it can be fast, sometimes difficult, and even shocking.

Reactions to change

There is good news. If we have that gift of adjusting to change, our lives are good. This is because most, if not all of our suffering comes from not dealing well with change. Here’s an example:

In the United States, around 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.

Many failed relationships begin with the idea of meeting a soulmate. It’s common to desire a soulmate. But changes occur and some of those relationships dissolve. When this happens, there are two outcomes.

  • We either hate the outcome, hate our lives because we are a divorcee, or we become bitter.
  • We move on and find new love. We may even find freedom and enjoy being single.

The second group of people have the skill of adapting well to change, you see. And, when we do that, our lives can continue to be beautiful. Those who easily adapt to change find love and joy again. They can remember what they had before, but they can move on to new chapters in their lives.

But when we scream to the universe about how life is unfair and see our change as a personal attack, then we will suffer. And you may respond with, “Well, I will never get married, so I won’t have to worry about getting divorced,” or “I will stay married even if my spouse and I hate each other.” These are both challenging ideas.

Learning to adapt to change

Change can be subtle, like when our bodies wear down or when we fall out of love. But sometimes it happens at a rapid pace, like with a car accident, stroke, or diagnosis of cancer. Change doesn’t mean we’ve done something wrong. It’s just life, and life is impermanent.

If we want to do well, we must adapt to change. So, how do we do that? Here are a few things to remember.

Be prepared

One of the most difficult aspects of life is being struck by a plethora of issues after going years without change. But here’s the key: These sudden changes can only “rock your world” if you do not expect them. If we accept that life will change, when it happens, we won’t be screaming at the universe saying, “Why is this happening to me?” Instead, we will find ways to make change work.

Acknowledge and adjust to change

We must understand that life is an adventure. We tackle change by acknowledging that change is a part of life. We shouldn’t look for someone else to blame, nor should we embrace bitterness. Instead, we must search for adaptation skills. For instance, with a cancer diagnosis, sometimes we can treat it, and sometimes we cannot. Regardless, we must change our lifestyles either to fight cancer or live with this predicament. In other words, we should adjust accordingly.

Adopt a different mindset

The way you see change is important as well. Instead of asking yourself why something happened, try accepting the change. When you accept changes, you can find ways to cope and make it work for you. Many people, like Helen Keller and Steven Hawking, had challenges in life but turned those challenges into astonishingly beautiful outcomes.

Their challenges may seem close to impossible for some of us, but they learned to deal with those issues. This proves that how well we do in life has little to do with the challenges we face but more to do with how we view these challenges.

Our common factor: We all face change.

The difference: our response.

Our happiness is not material

We all know someone who seems to have everything they want, yet their lives are miserable. Then some have little but seem to be perfectly happy. Just because modern medicine and technology have improved life, it’s still material. Flowing with change means happiness that isn’t dependent on “stuff” and conditions.

Make a decision

When change comes, which is inevitable, it’s important to decide. Instead of questioning why the change happened, decide to make it work. No, you may not like the change, and you may be upset for a while, but push yourself to move on. Focus on letting the change become the new circumstance. And yes, sometimes we can revert the change, and that’s fine. However, when we’ve done everything in our power, and life keeps going down a certain path, we must make that decision.

I am going to adapt to this new present.

True happiness

The happiest people you will ever see are those who are adaptable to change. And those who suffer frequently are not. And it’s difficult to understand that what’s relevant in life is how we deal with adversity. Do we fight or do we flow with this? Are we feeding our souls hopelessness and despair, or courage?

We can make anything work with the correct focus, and the truth is our thoughts are so powerful. We must pay attention to what we are feeding our hearts and our minds when change comes. So, instead of giving up or numbing ourselves, we should learn to adjust how we view change. Every life is precious, and it just takes work. We can all have beautiful lives.

Your relationship with change

The bottom line is, that we should never give up. Let go of your attachments and accept that life is impermanent. Even if 95 percent of life is ugly (at this time), we should focus on the 5 percent of goodness. This is where we spend our time.

So, are you fighting life? If so, take a step back and tell life, “Thank you for this gift of change.” Practicing this new perspective can help you learn to appreciate life and all its changes.

“Okay life, I don’t know right now how I am going to make this work, but I will.”

More from Robert Puff Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today