If you weren’t following the path you are on right now, whether in your personal life or career, what would you be doing?
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Despite our best efforts, the dreams we set for ourselves may not always come to fruition. Aspirations for a career or parenthood may not work out, an injury may add limitations to our goals, and our relationships may fall apart. Adjusting to our new reality and taking that first step on an alternative path may seem extremely tough, but it’s not impossible.
Humans are resilient creatures, and can find happiness, even when they follow unexpected paths. Here are four strategies that can help you embrace a life that doesn’t look like the one you charted out for yourself, according to a May 2023 report in the US-based psychology news website Psychology Today:
1. Allow yourself to grieve
Grieving doesn’t just apply to the death of a loved one. A 2008 study published by the American Psychological Association found that disenfranchised grief happens when a person’s grief is not recognised as legitimate in a given situation, and they lack the necessary support to improve their mental health. So, just allowing yourself to grieve the loss of the life you wanted is the beginning of a healing process – recognising the experience, and treating yourself with compassion is key.
2. Don’t idealise other people’s lives
You may be reminded of your loss everywhere you go. But glimpses into others’ lives may be misleading – many people share only what’s going right in their lives, while keeping the more difficult aspects private. This imbalance can lead people to underestimate the suffering of others, according to an August 2019 study in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and make them feel more isolated and dissatisfied with their lives.
3. Cherish the good stuff
Give yourself permission to be happy, even if the voice in your head says it’s impossible. You might find deeper joy in old pursuits you once enjoyed, or may find unexpected happiness in brand new adventures. According to a September 2012 study in the Journal of Happiness Studies, people’s ability to savour positive experiences – even simple, everyday ones – is associated with greater well-being. To do so, you will need to be present, pay attention to what you’re experiencing, and feel grateful and appreciative of the enjoyment you receive.
4. Re-imagine a fulfilling life
There is no guarantee of success, even for a life well-planned. But according to a 2023 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, if you think of your life in a way that resembles the ‘Hero’s Journey’ – a type of story structure that’s often seen in movies and books – you’ll be better able to bounce back in stressful times, and enjoy a greater sense of purpose. The journey involves confronting obstacles, being transformed by experiences, and giving back to the community. It may not have been the life you wanted, but it could very well be the life you needed, all along.
Is your life going the way you planned? Play today’s Word Search and tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.