Learning how to survive and thrive when bad things happen

No matter how hard you try, bad things are going to happen. Learn how to rise above the b.s. and get your feet on solid ground again.

by: E.B. Johnson

We live in a world that tells us that we’re special. We live in a world that makes us believe, in a way, that we’re divine beings separated from the bad things that are happening in the world all around us.

When we turn on the news and hear about a terrible accident or another school shooting, it makes us sad but not as sad as it probably should. We feel separated from those events and often this separation can lead us to the (erroneous) belief that something like that could never happen to us.

The fact of the matter is, though, that bad things happen to everyone. Today, that might be someone else’s car driving off the cliff, but tomorrow it might be yours.

If we live long enough in this life, we all come to encounter tragedies that change us and shape us in the fires of their adversity. One of the biggest lessons we have to come to learn in this life is that bad things happen to everyone, and it doesn’t matter who you are or how hard you try to avoid it.

Accepting our suffering.

When we are injured by life’s jostling, it’s easy to get mad at yourself or some aspect of the situation you find yourself in. You get angry and question yourself and the people around you, and in the end you wind up in more distress as you fight an uphill, losing battle.

It is this resistance to things that don’t go our way that causes suffering in our lives. Our inability to accept things as they are is the double-edged sword that wounds us time and time again — making life seem impossible to live.

The Buddhists have an equation that summarizes this idea nicely:

Pain x Resistance = Suffering.

Rather than resisting our pain, creating more suffering in our lives, we have to learn to accept ourselves and our circumstances for who and what they are. When we come to find this level of authentic acceptance, we can develop understanding and compassion for ourselves and the people around us.

Those who can accept their authenticity are those who are happier in their relationships and happier with themselves. The accept their current reality and embrace it with open arms, paying attention to their thoughts, feelings and desires without allowing them to control the situation.

Being accepting and compassionate with yourself is a choice and one that must be made consciously every day. Plan for a better future and develop supportive friendships and you’ll find acceptance blooming everywhere in the life around you.

Focusing on solutions.

When the bad gets worse, it becomes easy to dwell on all the ways life is disappointing us. We allow ourselves to get stuck in a negative feedback loop, and from this comes an array of negative behaviors and coping mechanisms. When we get caught up on the doom and the gloom, we bring more doom and gloom into our lives.

That’s why it’s so critical to stay focused only on the things you can control when things get rough.

Rather than getting hung up on the things that you can’t change, you have to learn to focus instead on the changes you can bring about. Letting go of our attachment to the things we cannot control allows us to relieve some of the stress that is suffocating us.

To move yourself into a more resourceful state of thinking, consider your strengths rather than your weaknesses. Dwell on the things that you can do, rather than the things you can’t do or the problems that you have. Focusing on solutions, rather than just the disappointments around us allows us to overcome our suffering and survive and thrive in ways we never imagined before.

Avoiding negative coping mechanisms.

As humans, we look for the quickest solution when we’re facing trouble. Sticky situations cause us a lot of discomfort. Whether the discomfort we face is big or small, we want the pain and suffering caused to be over — fast.

Part of coming to accept life “as is” is learning also to control the negative impulses and urges that come along with the toughest parts of living. We look for things that feel good to replace the things that feel bad in our lives, but that often leads us down a rabbit hole of even more negativity. Whenever a bad thing happens to us, we often find ourselves slipping into a few harmful negative behaviors.


When someone has an extremely high locus of control, they constantly blame the people and circumstances around them for the things that go wrong in their life. Rather than taking responsibility for the choices they’ve made that led them to a certain point, they blame others and try to make themselves feel better by blaming everyone around them.

People who see themselves as victims find themselves in the same negative situations over and over again; and even their personal and professional relationships are impacted by their inability to step up to the plate.

Playing the victim is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you forever think of yourself as a victim, the world will see you that way and treat you as such. When you believe that everyone around you is responsible for your life, you start to believe that you can’t control your future and that’s when things go south.

Giving up.

We all know that person who just gives up every time things get a little challenging or uncomfortable. They lose hope and walk away from things that could have been made better, given just a bit more time, and when they do so they shut the door on incredible opportunities. Deciding it’s “not worth it” is often an excuse to do nothing.

Reacting with anger.

When we feel out of touch or out of control with a situation, we often react in anger. We lash out at the people and things that matter the most to us, and shift the blame to them when we can’t control ourselves. Much like victim-blaming, reacting with anger is just another way to make excuses and shift our feelings of guilt and disappointment to a more palatable place.

Letting depression win.

Many of us have faced depression and know how brutal and debilitating the disease can be. We also know, however, the things that trigger us and push us toward that cliff edge. Learning to avoid the things that let the depression monster back in is imperative in finding a way forward.

When we aren’t careful in managing our emotions, we can find ourselves sinking back into that dark place where more darkness breeds. Rather than dwelling in the bad and letting our lives be taken and destroyed, we have to learn to stand up for ourselves and keep the depression at bay by facing our situations bravely and honestly.

Self-blame game.

While blaming others isn’t the solution to “finding a way out”, neither is taking on blame for the sins of the entire universe.

Take responsibility for the things that are under your control and learn to let everyone else handle their own guilt. Even when we make self-deprecating comments like “I’m so stupid,” we are blaming ourselves for things that are outside of our control. Realize what baggage is truly yours and what baggage belongs to others.

The 8 best ways to accept, survive and thrive when the going gets tough

While it is far more comfortable to believe that the darkest parts of life will never touch us, that just isn’t true. Learning to accept yourself and your life is more than just getting beyond the negative coping mechanisms that drag you down. It’s also about developing new habits that allow you to thrive when the going gets tough.

1. Get rid of the frustration.

If you bottle up all those little aggravations, they’re going to culminate in one grand explosion of feeling. Rather than brooding or stewing, release your frustrations and realize that being frustrated isn’t going to solve anything.

Reach out to a good friend and share your frustrations with them, or journal them or channel them into a new sport or hobby.

Whether you go berserk or not, chances are the situation you’re in is not going to change. When we allow our agitation to call the shots, we allow it to prevent us from making good decisions. It’s better, instead, to consider all situations calmly and give ourselves time to cool and think things through.

2. Identify the lesson.

Everything that happens in our lives has a silver lining and every bad thing we experience has something good to teach us. Whether it’s a failed relationship, losing a friend or even a horrible boss, we can always learn something from the disappointing situations in our lives.

Changing the way we perceive our circumstances (and taking what good we can from them) allows us to move on and move forward in a positive and constructive way. Difficulties help us build resilience and give us the feedback we need to grow as individuals; it’s all up to us and how we process that feedback.

Identify the lesson that your situation has to teach you and move on as quickly and as efficiently as you can. There’s something good to be gleamed, but you might have to do some digging to find it. You can’t survive this hurdle until you learn how to make the best our of a bad situation. Thrive by moving beyond with a positive perspective.

3. Realize that you’re never alone.

While it might seem like the weight of the world has left you alienated and alone, it’s important to remember that you’re never alone — no matter how bad you might feel.

No matter what you might think, there is someone out there who is experiencing the exact same thing that you are. That someone is also down and also feeling like the going has gotten impossible.

When you realize that you aren’t the only one that feels this way, it can do a lot to relieving the pain and the guilt and the shame that you feel. The best way to get out of a self-victimizing mindset is to remember that there are other people out there that know exactly how you feel and there are many more who have already gone through what you’re going through right now.

If they survived this, you can too…but you’ve got to hold on.

4. Get objective with your perspective.

Learn to detach yourself from things and see them as they are: just things that happen, regardless of who we are or where we come from. We are responsible only for our reaction to a situation and the feelings we attach to it. Everything else is (relatively) outside of our control.

Remove the feelings you have about your circumstances and look at the entire situation and all its variables objectively. It’s easier to cope when you can consider the full picture and realize that there are many more moving pieces than just the ones under your play.

5. Recognize your choices.

Even if everything else is out of control, you are 100% in control of how you react. We always have a choice when it comes to the way we handle the hurdles that life throws at us. While we may not be able to control our spouses or our children or our employers, we can most certainly control our behaviors and we should do so at every opportunity.

You will be able to face even the worst things in this life when you realize that you can always decide how much they impact you. Life is a gamble, and though you may not be able to change the cards you’re dealt, you can most definitely change the way you play your cards.

There is always a choice when it comes to how we react to adversity. We make a million different choices every day and our reaction to life is just one of them. Actions, whether benign or life-altering, are always a choice. Choosing wisely is the different between thriving and surviving.

6. Learn to ask for help.

One of the greatest life lessons we can learn — in any instance — is the art of asking for help when we need it.

Our society isn’t one that values weakness and is one that encourages us to hide our weaknesses at all costs. Social media has coached us into a “highlight reel” mentality and we feel inferior when we show the world anything but our “best”. Rather than asking for help, we stay silent in our shame and guilt and, over time, these feelings become corrosive and toxic to our authentic selves and the relationships we share with the people around us.

Learn to ask for help when you need it. Learn to reach out to others when your’e feeling vulnerable or too weak to go on. Suffering in silence isn’t noble and it won’t make you better for the burden. Stop waiting to be rescue and ask for the assistance that you need to get through the tough times.

7. Embrace the adversity.

Life is a journey and it’s full of beautiful growth but also disastrous adversity. Everything happens for a reason but we have to embrace that adversity in order to bloom into our authentic selves.

Rather than seeing obstacles as stop signs, we have to see them as detours, and find better ways to reach the goals we set for ourselves in life.

8. Focus only on what you can do.

Those who grow are those who are focused on the things they can change (rather than the things that they can’t.) Center your development and growth around the things that you can do and the things that you do well. Dwell on the solutions, rather than the problems.

Action creations empowerment but to act, you have to know what you’re capable of. Spend some time with your strengths and your weaknesses and get to know them like the powerful tools and weapons they can be.

Putting it all together…

Bad things happen and the quicker we come to accept that, the quicker we can get to creating the life we deserve. Acceptance hastens healing, but to come to that level of acceptance, we have to develop the tools that allow us to cope when the going gets tough.

Rather than turning to the negative things that bring us empty satisfaction, we have to focus instead on the things that we can change, and make better choices that leave us poised to go after our futures with all the conviction we are capable of.

The unpleasantness in life is largely determined by how we react to the situations and circumstances we find ourselves in. Have the courage to stand up and take responsibility for your future and you’ll find yourself surviving and thriving far beyond the expectations of anything you ever imagined before.