Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


7 Tips for Getting Over Disappointment

1. Limit how long you let yourself feel bad.

Source: LeventeGyori/Shutterstock

Against my best judgment, I succumbed to Powerball fever and bought a ticket for the recent massive payout. Why had I been resistant to doing so? Because while the odds of winning the jackpot were 1 in 292 million, the likelihood of ending up disappointed were 291,999,999 in 292 million.

Most of us are aware the odds are ever not in our favor, but that inconvenient statistical truth does not prevent us from indulging a fantasy or two about what we would do were we to win. In essence, we buy hope for $2 a ticket—and that hope allows us to overlook the fact that we’re virtually guaranteed to lose. Hope gives us a few hours to indulge the extraordinarily remote if delicious possibility that we might actually win. Hope encourages us to visualize how satisfying it would be to march into work, tell our boss what we really think of them, and declare, “I quit!” or how rewarding it would be to see our parents cry with joy when we buy them a huge mansion.

Hope is great, but it comes with a downside—disappointment. The more time we spend fantasizing about how amazing it would be to win, the greater our disappointment is likely to be when we lose. The day before the Powerball drawing, there was a lot of hope in the air. The day after? A lot of disappointment.

So, for the millions who had to force a smile and mumble a hello to their boss while dealing with let-down (myself included), here are 7 strategies for getting over disappointment:

1. Give yourself a limited time to feel bad.

Acknowledge the letdown but don't get mired in it. If you didn’t win the lottery, give yourself an hour to feel bad. If you didn’t get a promotion or if your bonus was less than you hoped for, give yourself a day—but then move on.

2. Don’t ruminate about what might have been.

The more you dwell on the disappointment, the more it will hurt and disrupt your ability to focus, concentrate, problem-solve, or be creative. So be careful not to feed the disappointment and deepen your emotional hurt.

3. Avoid self-pity.

Self-pity comes with a price—it takes away feelings of empowerment and agency and makes us feel as though we don’t have control over our lives. So indulge it at your peril; it can foster a bad mood and even depression if you get stuck for too long.

4. Use self-compassion.

Be sympathetic toward yourself and compassionate about the fact that you hurt. Don’t beat yourself up or become self-critical; doing so will only hurt your confidence, damage your self-esteem, and make you feel worse.

5. Put it in perspective.

We often feel disappointed about things we are unlikely to remember in a month’s time. How many of us will think back from five years in the future to that day in 2016 when we didn’t win the lottery? Very few. If the disappointment you experienced was significant, try to focus on the larger picture of your life and remind yourself of all the things that are going well and for which you can be grateful.

6. Identify the next opportunity.

This is easier to do with lottery tickets, of course, than with more significant events in your life that cause disappointment, but as they say in baseball: There’s always next season. Regardless of what disappointed you, spend a few moments figuring out when and how you can try again.

7. Remember: Success does not equal happiness.

Research on lottery winners has found that their level of happiness rises dramatically after they win, but then reverts to the same level of happiness they felt before they won—usually within a year.

Copyright 2016 Guy Winch.

More from Guy Winch Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today