To say we’re living through challenging times sounds like both a cliché and an understatement. In recent months, news about the pandemic, economic woes, and bitter political debates have triggered tremendous anxiety and sadness for many Americans.
But when people look back on their lives, it is usually the most difficult challenges that gave them a new perspective or caused them to grow the most. Of course, in the midst of a crisis, it doesn’t feel that way. But there are steps you can take to cope during difficult times, using techniques from the field of positive psychology.
How can positive psychology help in trying times?
Initially, positive psychology focused mainly on pursuing rewarding experiences that made people feel more joyful. But psychologists soon realized this sort of happiness depends on fleeting experiences, rather than a more enduring sense of contentment. As a result, the field shifted to concentrate on cultivating satisfaction and well-being but staying open to the full range of emotional experiences, both good and bad. Contrary to what you might expect, trying to resist painful emotions actually increases psychological suffering.
“Positive psychology is not about denying difficult emotions. It’s about opening to what is happening here and now, and cultivating and savoring the good in your life,” says Ron Siegel, PsyD, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.
If you develop the habit of counting your blessings, for example, you may be better able to appreciate the positive aspects of life that remain even after a painful event like a job loss or a death. And helping others, even when you are struggling, can increase your positive feelings and help you gain perspective.
Growing evidence suggests that positive psychology techniques can indeed be valuable in times of stress, grief, or other difficulties. They may also help