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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Turning Lemons into Lemonade During Life's Ordinary Disappointments

There's an old, wise saying about life's everyday disappointments: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Some people have such an extraordinary knack of being able to reframe life's inevitable disappointments to make a negative into a positive. 

They are the 10 or so percent of the population who are naturally optimistic. They can find the silver lining in the darkest storm clouds: Stuck in traffic? No problem, it's an opportunity to remember to breathe and relax. Their car needs repairs? No problem, it's an opportunity to walk and get more exercise. Everyday disappointments and frustrations are taken in stride with their naturally positive attitude and resilience. For most of the rest of us, this is a way of being that doesn't come naturally and would need to be cultivated.

Turning Lemons into Lemonade During Life's Ordinary Disappointments
Ordinary Disappointments and Frustration
Before I go on, I want to stress that I'm referring to life's ordinary and inevitable disappointments and frustrations. I'm not referring to tragic losses or trauma. It would be very unempathic and cruel to expect, for instance, that a parent who loses a child would be looking for a silver lining in this loss--although, there are some very extraordinary people who galvanize themselves and find the strength to help others, even after tragic losses. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and other similar groups are examples of this, but the ability to do that is different from reframing a loss or disappointment.

So, how can we learn to "make lemonade" when life gives us lemons? How can we learn to develop this skill that resilient and resourceful people have? And why is it important to learn this life skill?

Well, I'll address the second question first by saying that, on the most basic level, research has shown that people who have an optimistic attitude tend to be healthier and live longer. They feel confident and more in control of their lives. And, generally speaking, they tend to be happier than people who have a more pessimistic outlook on life, so the quality of their lives is better.

As to how to develop a more optimistic attitude, the first step is to have an awareness of how you think and respond to ordinary disappointments. Do you feel angry and defeated or are you able to take an everyday disappointment in stride?

To be able to determine this, you need to be able to step back in a non-defensive way and be honest with yourself. At times, this can be challenging, but if you can review in your mind how you handled the last few annoying incidents in your life, all things being equal, you would probably get a good sense of where you are on the optimism/pessimism spectrum. And I want to stress that there is a spectrum--it's not a black and white or all or nothing thing. And, of course, there are especially stressful times in life when you can feel overwhelmed and, even the most optimistic person would feel challenged, but I'm not referring to these times.

So, let's say that you've determined that you're someone who gets easily thrown by everyday disappointments and you want to learn to change the way you respond. How do you do that? My recommendation, after you learn to develop an awareness of your habitual pattern is to practice reframing these events for yourself.

Now, if you're a naturally dyed-in-the-wool pessimist, this will be challenging, no doubt about it. If the idea of reframing a relatively minor disappointment into a potential opportunity seems impossible for you, you might need to start by using your creative imagination to imagine how an optimistic person might look at it. Suspend disbelief and put yourself in the shoes of an optimistic person to fathom how he or she might reframe an annoyance or disappointment.

Even if, at first, this seems completely foreign to you, chances are that if you practice this diligently, you can change the way you think and respond to life's ordinary downturns. And the ability to reframe these disappointments can help you to be a more resilient and resourceful person who can respond to life in a creative way.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist who provides psychotherapy services to individuals and couples, including contemporary talk therapy, EMDR, clinical hypnosis, and Somatic Experiencing.


To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist


To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.

photo credit: Creature Comforts via photopin cc

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