You'd think we'd grow accustomed to disappointment over time, wouldn't you? And in a way, we do. Life is full of ups and downs – and as we age, most of us come to realise that even the most trying experiences will be followed by happier times, and vice versa.
And yet some disappointments still come as a crushing blow. When you've piled all your hopes and efforts into a particular project or dream, it can be hard to take when things don't work out as you'd expected. You may know deep inside that it's not the end of the world – but it still feels that way right now. So what next?
Give yourself a break
First, you need to accept what's happened. But that doesn't mean you have to like it. There's no point pretending you feel absolutely fine. Instead, it's important to allow yourself the time and space to process your emotions and come to terms with events.
'Feelings of disappointment can affect us profoundly,' says Dr Megan Arroll, senior lecturer in health psychology at BPP University. 'You need to accept the emotional pain you're experiencing and take time to heal. Be kind to your body, as well as your mind. Exercise, art, music and drama can each act as an outlet and expression for deep-set feelings – so do whatever resonates with you, be that going for a walk or painting a landscape.'
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Do something constructive
Disappointment often presents an opportunity to learn from what's happened and ensure we're not repeatedly subjected to the same let-downs. If you didn't get a promotion, for example, ask for feedback so you'll be better prepared to get the job next time. Or if a new relationship suddenly ended before it had even really begun, it may help to talk through what went wrong with a close friend or counsellor before you rush headlong into the next.
Nobody likes to feel a failure, of course. So try changing the language you use to describe your disappointment. Think of yourself as 'learning', rather than 'failing'. Don't get 'angry'; get 're-energised' or 'determined'. And don't start moaning that 'this sort of thing' always happens to you. 'This sort of thing' happens to everyone at some point. What matters is how you react to it.
Take a look at Plan B
When disappointment strikes, of course, it also allows you to look at the bigger picture and consider what alternative paths may be open to you. Let's take missing out on a promotion as our example again. Is it time to look for a similar position elsewhere? To pursue an entirely different career? Or to take early retirement and travel the world? There's a wealth of opportunities out there – many of which may not have been apparent when you were focusing all your efforts on Plan A.
'Doing voluntary work to help others is a great way to overcome disappointment,' says Dr Arroll. 'Not only is it rewarding, but it also helps put things into perspective.' Nine out of 10 voluntary workers report an increased sense of purpose, self-esteem and empowerment, according to a Citizens Advice survey.
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Stop making comparisons
Finally, make the effort to stop comparing your own life and achievements to other people's. Who knows? You may even find that you didn't really
want that bigger house or better-paid job after all: you just felt you should want it because that's what someone else had. Remember, we all make different choices and sacrifices in life – and nobody truly has it all – which is why it's always a good idea to stop and count your blessings.
'We tend to compare “up”, rather than “down”, which of course makes us feel our lives are less happy, fun and successful than other people's,' says Dr Arroll. 'Rather than coveting that “dream home”, for example, shift your perspective and try comparing yourself to those who are less well-off. Besides, that big house is probably a nightmare to clean!'
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