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4 Steps to Finding Happiness in the Face of Adversity

Updated: Jul 2, 2019

In a world where images of perfection constantly bombard us, it's especially easy to get caught up in what's sometimes referred to as One Day Syndrome (ODS).

ODS happens when we say, "I'll be happy when…", and fill in the blank with what we think is holding us back from happiness. Whether it's health, status, financial wealth, or something else we feel we have yet to achieve, it is simply not true that we'll only be happy once we get it.

One way we can quickly debunk this is by learning of people who – despite having faced incredible adversity – find joy every day. We might think those who are truly happy despite significant loss are nothing like us, but in reality, the only difference is their perspective. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist who is well known for being a pioneer in the scientific study of happiness, has proven this in his work.

In Flow, one of many books written by Csikszentmihalyi, he explores the psychology of optimal experience. Chapter 9, called Cheating Chaos, addresses why external factors do not determine whether we are happy. His findings indicate that it's a combination of these and, more importantly, how we interpret and work through challenges, that allows us to demonstrate resilience and find joy in any circumstances.

Csikszentmihalyi studied several people who have thrived through significant setbacks, such as losing their sight, becoming paraplegic, and living on the streets. What he found was that a person's ability to create order out of chaos and find purpose during challenging times is what sets them up for success. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by stressful situations, they see them as a chance to grow, taking comfort their ability to control the way they respond.

We all face adversity in one form or another. To get the most out of life, we must learn to find happiness through difficult times.

Csikszentmihalyi's research shows that to find happiness in the face of adversity, you must:

1. Determine what is in your control and set realistic goals. When faced with misfortune, the best action you can take is to look at what is within your power and determine how to work towards it. Achieving challenging, yet attainable goals will give you purpose and fulfillment. Being decisive and intentional about what you're working towards helps you to take responsibility for the things you do have control over. An important caveat is that in being fully responsible for your actions, it's okay to reevaluate your plan and course correct as necessary.

2. Remove distractions and immerse yourself in working towards your goals. In today's world, especially, there are so many external distractions that prevent us from truly concentrating. As such, it's easy to set goals and then become derailed without even realizing it. After you've made sure that what you are aiming to achieve is balanced with where your skill set lies, external distractions will be one of the only things stopping you from doing it. Be mindful of this and do your best to remove them. Maybe that involves implementing time management tools or consciously deciding not to consume certain types of media.

3. Manage your perspective and internal dialogue. Self-consciousness can be even more detrimental to achieving goals than external distractions. When you put energy towards thinking about how you're doing, or how what you're doing appears to other people, it removes your focus from the task at hand. Though it's easier said than done, when you curb that dialogue and concentrate on what is happening instead of what's going on in your head, you'll achieve a form of focus that is much more powerful.

4. Embrace the present. The number one thing that sets people who thrive through adversity apart is their ability to enjoy the moment, without thinking back to the past or ahead to the future. Everything in your life isn't perfect; but as you sit, sipping a delicious hot tea, feeling the warmth of the sunshine or enjoying a peaceful moment in nature, embrace the pure happiness of that moment. Enjoying the little things along your journey is a guaranteed way to find happiness, no matter what you're facing.

While these steps are specific to finding happiness in times of difficulty, they reflect Csikszentmihalyi's framework for finding flow, which is insightful and valuable in itself. Learn more by reading Flow and watching his Ted Talk.

Can you relate to finding, or struggling to find happiness in your approach to life's challenges?



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