Lows are a natural part of life. The very fact that they exist means that they serve an adaptive purpose. Recent research points to the benefits of sadness and disappointment in helping us change our perspective on life, learn from experiences and embrace a deeper understanding of our place in the larger universe.
Sometimes, however, these lows can persist past their expiration date. We begin to see ourselves as unworthy and not “enough”, other people as better than us, and the world as a hopeless place. We start to isolate ourselves as a result, which simply feeds back into the downward spiral of shame, inadequacy, and low self-worth.
In order to distance ourselves from the negativity that surrounds long-lasting sadness and builds the inner resources that allow us to grow through life’s challenges, here are a few scientifically-validated strategies that have stood the test of time:
Grow your Gratitude
In a study of character strengths, gratitude has been identified as the strength that’s easily buildable and highly effective in increasing happiness. Keep a gratitude journal, or write about 3 good things that happened in your day, and you’re well on your way to countering the doom and gloom mindset that characterizes sadness.
Train Your Mind
An inherent negativity bias can keep us locked away in past mistakes and lost opportunities. To begin living in the present and open up to the world around us, we need to take back control of our minds. Holding a mental stop sign or visualizing yourself plucking a negative thought out like a weed will help you direct your attention towards what is positive and productive.
Monitor Your Mood
When we’re low, we stop doing the very things that used to make us happy and thus perpetuate the sadness. One way out is writing down all your “happy moments”—like the walks in the woods you once enjoyed, nights out with friends, or quiet afternoons spent on an art project. Purposefully building them back into your life allows your behaviors to impact your feelings, rather than waiting for it to happen the other way around.
Value Your Worth
Since the psychological constructs of sadness lie in low self-worth, appreciating who we are, the values we stand for, and the strengths and passions that define us, is crucial for a sense of aliveness. Take time to reflect upon the best version of yourself, and on the legacy you’d like to leave behind, and then take small and meaningful steps towards it.
Connect with Others
As the most social species on the planet, we’re wired to connect with others to feel safe, soothed, secure, but also to feel happy. Ironically, sadness disconnects us from others at a time when we need them the most and engulfs us in a downward spiral. Make a list of all the people who are your sources of support and reach out to them. It’s nature’s best-kept secret to happiness!
Have Meaningful Projects
There is a need within all of us to belong to something larger than ourselves. When this need is unfulfilled, a deep inner hollow takes its place—a constant reminder of the futility of our daily pursuits. Instead of mulling in this inner emptiness—which can sometimes be strangely self-soothing—shift out of the “ego-system” of sadness and embrace the “eco-system” of a larger purpose, whether it’s volunteering at an animal shelter or becoming involved in your local food bank or nursing home.
Not all of us are born with sun-shiny dispositions. Those of us with more activity in the right hemisphere of the brain are less happy in general. But if nature has made us lose in the “cortical lottery”, mindfulness can make us winners. Practice self-compassion meditation—it helps wire your brain, and it allows you to be kinder to yourself at a time when you most need it.
It’s true that we’re no good when engulfed in our sadness. But it’s also true that we need to see value in it—or else we give in to the urge to run away from it, and thus, from ourselves.
Life is about growth, and growth happens in moments of quiet reflection. For it is then that we connect to who we really are, reflect upon the meaning of life, and find our ground again.