6 tips for how to handle disappointment

Disappointments come in countless shapes and sizes: people who let us down, bad weather that ruins our day out, work projects that we spend a lot of time on that aren’t successful. Whatever the disappointments are, they can cause stress, anger, frustration and more.

If we want to be happy, we must rise above disappointment. How? We can think positive statements such as, “I won’t let this destroy my happiness anymore. I can – and I will – be happy anyway.” Then we put into action strategies to make us feel happier.

One strategy is to lower our expectations. When expectations are set too high, and they aren’t met, it can lead to disappointment.

Below are ideas that I use to help me deal with disappointment. They might also work for you.

1. Accept that life has disappointments
2. Have realistic expectations
3. Don’t postpone happiness — aim to be happy now
4. Appreciate what you already have
5. Have more than one goal in life
6. Have a support team
Summary

1. Accept that life has disappointments

We could endlessly say that this or that disappointment shouldn’t have happened to us. Or we didn’t deserve it. And it was unfair. We might be right or wrong, or anywhere in between. But endlessly griping, hurting or being bitter about it isn’t letting go and moving on.

To be happy and at peace we must, in time, accept that disappointments can and do happen; they are part of life. And they happen to all of us, no matter how much effort we put in or how innocent we are…

How long we feel bad about a disappointment depends on how we cope, what we think, who we listen to for advice, and more.

By acknowledging that disappointments happen in life, we are better equipped to deal with them when they happen; we can feel less shocked, so less disappointed. We might be able to anticipate that a disappointment might happen, so have ideas for how to handle it, if it does. For example, you go for a job interview for a job that you would really like to do, but you don’t get the job. To help avoid feeling too disappointed, you can think before the interview that “With or without this new job, I can be happy. Another – possibly better – job will come my way. If I don’t get this job, then it wasn’t meant to be. I will keep searching for a job, and I will get one.”

In time we can feel neutral when we think about a disappointment, instead of bitter and angry. Is this difficult? It can be. Acceptance might take years, then again it might be fast, or somewhere in between.

Is acceptance worth finding? Yes. Acceptance brings us more energy, inner peace, and happiness.

If we “fight life”, so to speak, by refusing to accept that disappointments happen, and endlessly thinking that they should not happen, we increase our pain, stress and anger.

How we cope with disappointment can determine whether we rise or fall, are bitter or at peace, upset or happy.

…We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Best-selling author and international public speaker Andrew Matthews wrote that it’s not so much what happens to us that determines our happiness, but how we feel about it. True. So what are some coping strategies and philosophies to help us feel happier after disappointment? Try the ones below:

  • Disappointments are part of life. If we live long enough, they happen to everyone — young and old, rich and poor, innocent and guilty… I have (or I will find) appropriate ways to cope, so that I am happy, regardless.
  • Life doesn’t always turn out the way we want, plan or imagine. We might go down a life path that felt awful at the time. Maybe it was meant to be this way. I will look at these experiences as times of growth. I will learn life lessons to help me and others become better people.
  • People – even those with the best intentions – are likely to let us down at some time. Even though I don’t like it, I can let go of the pain, anger (or stress…) from the disappointment. I can move on and feel happy.
  • Things out of our control can – and do – happen at times, so destroy our plans (or ideas, belongings…). I will and I can make other, better plans (or create better ideas…). Later on I might be able to look back and see that this disappointment all worked out for the best, despite how upsetting it was at the time.

… Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”

– Marilyn Monroe

2. Have realistic expectations

Help avoid disappointment by being more of a realist rather than an idealist. Challenge less realistic expectations with more realistic ones. Use the ones below that connect with you, and create your own.

Examples:

Expectation: Drivers should be more polite on the roads. I get angry when drivers are rude, thoughtless…

More realistic view: There are all sorts of drivers on the road — good, bad, rude and polite. No matter how well I drive, or how polite I am to others on the road, there will always be rude and bad drivers. That’s life, and I accept it. I choose how I react to these drivers, and I choose to stay calm.

Expectation: People should always do what they say they will do, and never let me down. I am reliable, and others should be too!

More realistic view: Sometimes people will let me down, even if they have the best intentions, and they do their best. I can get angry and stressed… or I can remember that no one, myself included, is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes.

I do not always know what is happening in other people’s lives. They might be going through tough times. They might be doing their best, even if their results are not as good as I wanted. I can still be compassionate and kind to them, as I would like others to be to me.

Expectation: I am a very likeable person. Everyone I meet will, and should, like me.

More realistic view: Many people who know me might like me; but if I know enough people then, realistically, I’m not going to like everyone, and not everyone will like me. People have different likes, dislikes, personalities and so on. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to like each other and to get along well together.

Expectation: I am a good person and I always do my best, so I should win at everything I do. I do not accept failure and errors.

More realistic view: At times things might go wrong or fail for both good and not so good people. Failure is part of life. Errors are part of life. Illnesses…, that wreck our plans, and so on, are too. What might seem like a failure now might really be a blessing in disguise. Failure can enable growth, re-organisation and re-thinking to enable us to be wiser, stronger and better.

Even the best sportspeople and business people get beaten sometimes. The current world number ones in every sport were not always number one, and they will not be number one forever.

Expectation: All of my employees (or people in my team, my colleagues…) should always do a good job. I expect them to do well, and they should always do well.

More realistic view: People get ill, injured, tired, burnout… so they don’t always perform at their best. This is part of life. I will be less disappointed – and happier – if I understand that we are all human, so we make mistakes, take sick days, and so on.

3. Don’t postpone happiness — aim to be happy now

“I’ll be happy when I get my promotion, get a better job, my kids respect me…” If (or when) these things come about, other disappointments might also happen — your pet gets ill, a friend lets you down, your boss didn’t appreciate your good job at work… In other words, if we put off our happiness until something happens, we are putting conditions on our happiness. And more disappointments might happen by then too!

Years ago I thought I’d be happier when I got a certain qualification. I received my qualification, and after graduation, I soon realised that life went on as usual. Yes, I was proud of myself, and happier for a brief time that I had this extra qualification. But it wasn’t like I was suddenly struck by happiness as if lightening had hit me.

Strive to be happy now, regardless of whether you’re waiting for your dream partner to come along, or you get that perfect job, or have your kids move out… Look for the happy things in life that you can cherish now. Enjoy the company of good friends and family. Do hobbies and have pastimes that make you happy. Make time for fun and laughter.

… The principles of living greatly include the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness, and trial with humility.”

– Thomas S. Monson

4. Appreciate what you already have

Do you have at least one good friend, family member or pet? How about one or more enjoyable hobbies? Some friendly work colleagues/team mates/neighbours…? Whatever positive things are in your life, appreciate them to help feel happy whether or not you get the praise you deserve for a job well done…

Create a gratitude list to help cope with disappointment. Focus on the good things in life that we already have (instead of what we don’t have but want) to reduce the intensity of disappointments, and get over them quicker.

Like I’ve mentioned in other blog posts on this website, I have a gratitude list that I read daily. I’ve adapted it over the years, and I rewrite parts of it as my life changes. My list includes things such as friends, eyesight and hearing, and enough food, clothing and water.

I use my list to remind myself that not everything is going wrong in my life, and there is much to be thankful for. My list cheers me up when disappointments happen. It prevents me from being upset for too long over them. It can put my disappointments into perspective.

Studies have found that people who read a gratitude list regularly are more likely to be happier than people who don’t regularly appreciate the good things in their lives.

5. Have more than one goal in life

If all we ever want to be is one thing in life, and we think nothing else will make us happy, if it never happens we can be very disappointed — devastated. We might never recover. Our self-fulfilling prophecy of not being happy unless we get to be that one thing can come true.

A better viewpoint is to believe positive thoughts such as:

  • “I would really like to be a (add in a profession here). I will work hard and do my best. If I get there, great, I’ll be proud of my achievement. But if not, I will be okay.
    If I do my best, but I don’t achieve my goal, perhaps it wasn’t meant to be. Who knows, maybe if I achieved it, I might not have enjoyed doing that job. Many people change professions/pursue other life paths from the ones that they originally had in mind. I’m sure a number of them are happier and more successful because of it. And lots of happy people have more than one profession during their lifetime.
    Maybe the Universe/God… has something better in mind for me — something (else) that will make me and others happy. I might be even more successful!
    I will do my best at whatever I am doing, and then let it go. I will set goals, and I will go after them. Things turn out for the best for me.”
  • “Having my happiness hinge on achieving this one goal in life is unrealistic. It’s as the cliché says “putting all of your eggs in one basket”. If the basket drops (meaning my goal doesn’t come about), then all is lost.
    I must trust that I have more than one thing that I can do well in life. I have skills and knowledge that are transferrable to other professions, if necessary. I have a back-up plan in-case my first goal falls through; I will set more than one goal in life, in case I don’t achieve one of them.”

… Burning desire to be or do something gives us staying power – a reason to get up every morning or to pick ourselves up and start in again after a disappointment.”

– Marsha Sinetar

… One of the best protections against disappointment is to have a lot going on.”

– Alain de Botton

6. Have a support team

The people we mix with affect our attitudes, beliefs, behavior, health and so on. Mix with people who boost your spirits when you’re down, help you achieve worthwhile goals, and congratulate you when you succeed.

To help deal with disappointments, harness the resources of a good support team, group or wise person you know. Talk to them about how to handle situations like yours. They might have gone through similar tough times, so can pass on their first-hand experience.

Read the biographies of successful people who’ve triumphed over hard times. What strategies did they use that you can use too?

Contact a counselor, support group, helpline, good online forum, friend and/or family member, and so on, if you need to. There are many kind and generous people who are willing to help others in difficult situations.

Summary

Disappointment can cause stress, anger and other negative emotions. For extra happiness and peace of mind, cope appropriately with disappointment. Have good strategies and beliefs to be resilient.

Sometimes disappointment teaches us important life lessons. We learn better ways of doing things, which help ourselves and others.

Disappointment can make us change our point-of-view, lifestyle or life path. We might look back on hard times and realize that we actually needed those experiences, even though they were upsetting, and now we are kinder and more compassionate… because of them.

… Disappointment will come when your effort does not give you the expected return. If things don’t go as planned or if you face failure. Failure is extremely difficult to handle, but those that do come out stronger. What did this failure teach me? is the question you will need to ask.”

– Chetan Bhagat

written by Nyomi Graef

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3 Responses to “6 tips for how to handle disappointment”

  1. Jerry says:

    I want you to thank for your time of this wonderful read!!! I definitely enjoy every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff of your blog a must read blog!

  2. Nyomi says:

    Hi Jerry,

    Thanks very much for your kind words about my article. I’m glad you like it. It’s really nice to get positive feedback.

    Thanks for commenting.

    Kind regards,
    Nyomi

  3. expect nothing and be happy!!

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