When Bad Is Good: Finding Meaning in “Negative” Events

There’s a Taoist story of an old farmer whose horse inexplicably ran away. Woman looking through tube His neighbors said, “What bad luck!” to which he replied, “Perhaps.”

The next day, the horse returned, bringing with it a wild horse. The farmer’s son tried to ride it, fell, and broke his leg. Once again, the neighbors sent their sympathy: “How terrible this is.” “Perhaps,” the farmer said.

The following day, military officials came to the village to draft every young man into the army. With his leg broken, the farmer’s son was spared from service.

There’s always more than one way to look at what life brings you, and for every event that seems negative there is a way to reframe it so that you can see the positive. And that can be a very good thing: your experiences become more meaningful, purposeful and valuable when you are able to recognize the gift contained in adversity.

The trouble is that, during the time you are experiencing adversity it’s often challenging, if not impossible, to see the proverbial silver lining.

So, how do you find the silver lining when troubles arrive at your doorstep?”

See the opposite.

Every day may not be good, but there is good to be found in every day—and a hidden gift in all our experiences. Search for the positive interpretation of the event.

Doing this might seem, at first, alien to you, but thinking outside of your initial interpretation of the event, and learning to be proficient at finding meaning in the challenges that come your way, is an excellent exercise in expanding your view of what’s possible.

Ask yourself lots of questions.

Adversity can serve you in positive ways, and one of the best ways to open yourself up and leverage negative experiences is by asking questions like:

  • How can I use this experience to learn (and change) something about myself? Positive or negative, our experiences are our guides and teachers, and can help us, if we pay attention to the lessons, to improve the quality of our lives.
  • How could this negative experience affect me in a positive way? This can be a challenging question to ask when you feel stuck in the middle of an uncomfortable situation. But being a partner with your pain allows you to open up to the beneficent possibilities instead of merely wallowing in the negativity.
  • How will this make me a stronger person? It’s not about handling difficult circumstances better than others (a mere ego boost), but how an expanded perspective empowers you to be a more capable and resilient spouse, parent, employee, entrepreneur, etc.
  • How does this negative event (and your reaction to it) reflect your life purpose? Sometimes, what we initially perceive as being an obstacle is actually a guide changing our course and steering us to our true path.
  • What’s the opportunity in the negative experience? Personal/professional growth? Developing a thicker skin? Service to others? Connection? A call to adventure? A mindset shift? Reassessing negative situations means converting them into something productive.

Be grateful.

The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes. —William James

If not for the negative event itself, be grateful for the insight or lesson learned.

Being present in the moment and appreciating all aspects of your life can act as a calming salve when times get rough.

And remember: finding the silver lining in every cloud doesn’t mean ignoring feelings associated with the event—quite the opposite. It means acknowledging and experiencing those feelings fully AND leveraging them to your advantage.

Giving meaning to events, both positive and negative ones, is empowering. A positive life skill is gained when we realize that for every single thing that happens in our lives, we get to choose whether it’s good or bad, whether it will weaken or strengthen us.

Author’s content used under license, © 2013 Claire Communications

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