The problems I’ve faced in life have changed me…for the better.

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The problems I’ve faced in life have changed me…for the better.

I became resilient as a teenager because I had to learn how to deal with life after having one parent die and another decompensate into despair. I discovered there were people who could teach me how to make it through those tough times. They were able to coach me on how to succeed no matter what challenge I was facing. My therapist helped me to develop my strengths by teaching me to use my natural talents and positive traits to create satisfaction in almost any situation I encountered.

Having problems is a perquisite for becoming resilient. They make you or break you. Problems are scary and painful – a lot like drowning and feeling the water flood into your inner core. These fearful times require that you fight your way back to the surface to get a breath of fresh air. But learning how to survive gives you a real appreciation for yourself, the people who support you and the positive parts of life that bring you joy.

Looking back I can see the positive changes I’ve made that bring me the serenity to accept what I cannot change (other people) as well as the courage to keep learning how to change what I can (myself). Having learned how to grow myself, I find it immensely gratifying to do what others did for me – teach people how to overcome their challenges.

Researchers call this resiliency, but where I grew up they just say it’s making lemonade out of lemons. The process of making changes for the better no matter what difficulties life throws at you boils down to paying attention to what works and what doesn’t. Your life will be irreversibly improved if you stop repeating your mistakes and expecting that someone else will save you. Instead, you must commit to struggling through the murky water until you learn to swim. Then you can get somewhere that’s safe and secure.

Positive psychology provides answers about how you can be happy as a person, flourishing in your relationships, and thriving in your profession. By studying individuals who’ve already learned to live in those ways, positive psychology research is able to enlighten people about how to put themselves into positive upward trajectories in their life.

For example, I grew up asking “why is this happening to me?” But I discovered that I was asking the wrong question because that way of thinking focused my attention on forces other than myself that were contributing to my problems. I learned (and positive psychology studies support) that the question I need to always ask is “what would it look like if I were to solve this problem and achieve a positive result?”

Envisioning a positive outcome creates hope, which studies show is the first step in being able to solve problems. Dr. Shane Lopez, a psychologist with one of the world’s leading positive psychology research centers – the Gallup Organization – conducts studies on hope and courage. He’s found there are 3 characteristics of people who are hopeful: 1) they’re capable of coming up with a change goal, 2) they can set up a plan for achieving their goals, and 3) they’re able to sustain their motivation for carrying out the plan.

Hope works to improve people’s daily lives because it creates passion for achieving positive outcomes and promotes self-efficacy, which psychologist Albert Bandura defines as the belief in your capability to be successful in your endeavors.

When I was virtually penniless as a young adult, I could see that working hard in college would give me financial security. I could see how studying the social sciences could help me to understand how to create the best life possible.

In retrospect, I can see how this combination of hope and self-efficacy combined to empower me to survive my struggles and ultimately prevail in creating a happy life. I could persevere through the tough times as long as I could see a positive outcome and had a plan of action to follow to get me there.

We’re stuck when we ask questions such as “Why me?”…“What will people do to me next?”…”When will this misery end?” To move to a better place, we need to ask:

  • What do I hope my life will look like this time next year?
  • If I were at my best, what small steps would I be taking to get myself to that place?
  • Who could help me to achieve my goals?