Personal leadership

What can we learn from feeling bad?

We have a romanticized image of happiness that simply doesn’t exist. We have to reclaim the right to have bad days

Ruben Montenegro

At some point, you’ve probably gone through a difficult time in your life: because something didn’t turn out the way you planned it, because you weren’t feeling your best, or because you lost a loved one. Whatever the reason, these moments don’t evoke positive emotions or make you feel like leaping for joy. People can tell you to see the glass as half full, to cheer up, but this does little. You’re feeling down and that’s all there is to it; and the worst thing you can do is feel like it’s your fault. We need to validate the right to go through bad moments in our lives, because they’re inevitable and necessary, they happen for a reason and because perhaps we have an idea of happiness that doesn’t exist.

We have an idea of happiness that doesn’t exist

Positive psyche has potentially been one of the greatest revolutionary thought developments in the last few decades, however, there appears to be a misunderstood notion of it, which maintains that happiness is a life without pain or moments of vulnerability and suffering. For example, one of the most renowned Tibetan monks in the East, Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche, sees the advantages of feeling bad: It gives us wisdom, trains us to be more resilient, helps us to be more compassionate and more deeply understand and respect our reality. Going through a rough moment in your life can be beneficial, and even heroes, including those from ancient times, had to cross deserts of their own, or in other words, go through emotional low points. If we wish to re-invent ourselves or redefine our lives, at some point we will probably have to cross some metaphorical arid desert as well.

When success smiles down upon us, we feel strong and empowered, and we can fall into arrogance. On the contrary, when we are faced with hardship, failure or loss, our confidence is weakened. It helps to question certain convictions we have, and this is healthy, because we can go from arrogance to humility, and make sure we are grounded. This is why I like Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar’s metaphor, “when we are in ecstasy, we look up towards the sky, towards infinity, and when we are going through a hard time, we tend to look down at the ground, towards the finite.” Both orientations are necessary to make us fulfilled and complete human beings.

We should take advantage of our problems to get a better understanding of ourselves

The fact that going through a hard time helps us grow as people does not mean you have to set up camp during those moments. The idea is to get out of this moment as soon as possible, with the greatest knowledge possible. So, what can we do if we are going through a rough patch?

The first thing you need to do is accept it. You won’t feel any better if you deny it, or say that you are fine when on the inside you’re not feeling your best. You have to start by identifying it when it happens to you.

Second, it’s good to talk about it so that it doesn’t become a bigger problem. Silence and our thoughts at night can twist our version of reality. This is why talking through your problems with someone you trust can help. It is similar to taking the bedsheet off the ghost and seeing that there is no real threat.

Third, identify what you can learn. When we can understand that these can be beneficial experiences, we can start to take small steps to leave them behind. Every bit of lesson we can get is a step towards getting out.

Feeling bad gives us wisdom and trains us to be more resilient

Fourth, look for mental, emotional, or physical resources. Mental tools can helps us relate to the problem better and analyze it reasonably and with a sense of humor. Find a friend who can make you laugh through the pain. Emotionally speaking, it is good to protect ourselves, and place ourselves in friendly environments. Avoid conversations that you get nothing out of. And in the physical department, exercise or simply a warm bath or massage can help us forget our troubles, if only for a while. Of course, we can’t completely forget about our problems, nor will they disappear if we do these things, but at least we can take some distance and look at them with a fresh perspective later on.

Lastly, trust in yourself. We can get through practically 100% of the deserts we have to cross. Sometimes it’s just a matter of time. The more you trust, the more energy you will have to keep going.

We all go through bad times. Some we can get through quickly, and other take months, but both shape our life. We don’t need to go looking for them or celebrate them necessarily, but we should take advantage of them to get a better understanding of ourselves. In this way, we can learn and renew ourselves as people.

English version by Laura Rodríguez.

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