June 3, 2020

Finding Joy in Disappointment

Mental Health & Wellbeing

Right now, everyone is making many sacrifices because of the extended impact of stay-at-home orders, cancelled events, cancelled vacations, job loss, and so many other disappointing things. Many people are missing out on weddings, graduations, proms, birthdays and other celebrations. As the year goes on, it has become clear that most of this year is going to look very different from how any of us thought it would. In preparation for this post, I spoke to several friends who have had weddings postponed, graduations cancelled and celebrations moved to virtual video hangouts. I asked them what they wished people were saying about the disappointment and ways they were learning to cope with the changes. Here are some of the things they said.

It’s okay to feel ________.

The blank can be any emotion, positive or negative. In fact, it is healthy to admit that you’re angry, hurt, sad, confused, etc, that your important events have been cancelled or postponed. It does not make you selfish to be upset just because other people are suffering. The pain of others does not invalidate your pain.

However, it is important to remember that you are still responsible for the way you choose to behave as a result of your feelings. Allowing yourself to feel all emotions does not mean that you should take your anger and stress out on other people. This can be particularly counterproductive in times like these when so many other people feel the same way. Instead, negative emotions can be expressed in healthy ways, like exercise, meditation, talking to close friends, or being creative.

When we choose actions like these, we can move through our negative emotions and begin to find small moments of joy or excitement in your disappointment. Many people will give you wise advice to find gratitude in the midst of all the chaos. When you have allowed yourself to express your negative emotions, gratitude can help you move forward and accept this joy. For example, it is always incredibly sad to have to postpone the wedding you have been dreaming about, but there is still joy in celebrating a small ceremony with two or three people that are very important to you.

Accept what you can’t control

You cannot control that these events or celebrations had to be cancelled. It’s always disappointing to lose the important milestone events in our lives. I’ve experienced how strange it is to graduate from college without a graduation ceremony. It feels surreal and makes it hard to accept that an important milestone has been passed. We have always had these events because they are important to move forward to the next phase of our lives. It is important to accept that we do not have control over the cancellation, because otherwise, we can begin to feel defeated or powerless in other circumstances as well.

While you cannot control the decision to cancel the event, you can control other aspects of how you respond. You can accept what you are feeling. You can choose to continue to take care of yourself, even if your vacation or other important self-care appointments are gone. You can choose to celebrate with a small group of people until a bigger celebration becomes feasible. You can also find ways to reflect on what this milestone means to you and how you will be a different person moving forward.

Celebrate what is important

The most important thing I heard from everyone I spoke to is that the cancellation has caused them to re-examine their values surrounding the event. Sometimes, weddings can get out of control and having to strip the ceremony down to very small pieces has helped the couple decide what was most important for their marriage. Baby showers can be all about the presents, but now it becomes about the people you want to support you in your journey to parenthood. Graduation ceremonies are quite literally a lot of pomp and circumstance, but time away from the ceremony allows you to reflect more on your accomplishments and the important people who have helped you arrive.

If you find that you cannot move toward gratitude or accept the disappointment right now, that’s alright. You may need help with this process and a therapist can provide that assistance. Call us today to begin moving back to joy.

Written by therapist Elise Champanhet

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