3 Ways to Celebrate Even When You’re Hurting

Try these strategies to stay present for the positive moments in otherwise tough times.

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Posted in , Feb 8, 2019

How to stay positive in middle of struggle

When you are hurting because of emotional challenges—from injury and illness to job loss or grief—it’s all too easy to feel stuck in that negative space. But life is never entirely negative (or positive). There’s a constantly shifting ebb and flow of events, milestones and moments that confront us each day—and some of those call for celebration. When your life feels heavy, it can add to your stress when you get a birthday or wedding invitation or get invited to a dinner to celebrate a friend’s promotion. How can you be authentically positive when you’re on an emotional roller coaster?

1)  Try to Compartmentalize

It can be very effective to shift challenging feelings to a different spot in your mind when you want to celebrate something positive in your life. Compartmentalizing can be a very effective tool, as long as you don't deny the full range of your emotions. The psychotherapist Barton Goldsmith tells the story of a couple who sees him for therapy at 5 pm to process their state of mind and then“put it away and go to dinner.” The couple is compartmentalizing their real relationship struggles so they can address them appropriately and honestly, but they are also able to embrace the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company at dinner.

2)  Practice Holding Opposite Feelings at the Same Time

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously described “first-rate intelligence” as “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Celebrating a milestone, holiday or accomplishment when you’re struggling elsewhere in your life asks you to practice this skill. The psychologist Michele Leno says that there might even be a benefit to this work. “Research has shown that experiencing a positive and negative emotion about a specific situation could potentially help us cope with difficult matters,” she told NBC News. This is not only because it allows us to be honest about our full range of emotions, but because it can be motivating to contrast our negative feelings with something positive happening close to us.

3)  Remember There Is No “Right Way”

If you are grieving, worried or suffering, you might feel pressure to “show up” for life’s positive moments just like you normally would. But when your challenges make this impossible, you run the risk of feeling guilty and frustrated that you can’t do it. The thing is, though, there is no “right way” to navigate tough times. Sometimes, the best decision you can make for yourself is to decline a celebration opportunity. Give yourself permission to tell a friend or family member you want to embrace this positive moment, but you simply aren’t able to give it the energy and enthusiasm it deserves. Or, you might surprise yourself by feeling inspired to participate in a happy occasion despite having legitimate reasons not to. Don’t push away that urge—accept it as an opportunity to be present and positive for even a short time. 

How do you stay on your positive path in tough times?

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