When Bad Becomes Good: Finding Meaning in the “Negative’ Events

We continue to see stories regarding the fallout caused by COVID-19. Children are out of school. Patrons are forgoing restaurants and are flooding grocery stores. Toilet paper is bought at alarming rates. Millions have been ordered to shelter-in-place.

Despite so much uncertainty and with lives indefinitely upended, people and communities have been coming together to support one another. There are so many ways people are lending a hand through individual acts and large-scale efforts. We have watched how, in the middle of chaos, come heroes with real hearts and people of compassion.

There’s a Taoist story of an old farmer whose horse inexplicably ran away. 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 us, and for every event that seems negative there is a way to re-frame it so that you can see the positive. And that can be a very good thing; our experiences become more meaningful, purposeful and valuable when we are able to recognize the gift contained in adversity.

The trouble is that during the time we are experiencing, with this adversity it is often challenging, if not impossible, to see the proverbial silver lining. So, how should we find the silver lining when troubles arrive at your doorstep?”

Look for the Good

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, very different 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 “What I can learn from this?”

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 can help us if we pay close 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 reflect life purpose? Sometimes, what we initially perceive as being an obstacle or even an inconvenient us can actually direct our path right into what we have desired but never really knew how to get there.

• What’s the opportunity in the negative experience? Personal/professional growth? Developing a thicker skin? Service to others? Connection? 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, 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.

We may never understand why all of this has happened in our lifetime but I have to believe there is a reason and it is up to us to stay with it until we find the answer. It is closer then we may realize…

I guess this is what the Bible means that God can give “Beauty from Ashes.” Isaiah 61:3

Ten Ways to Build and Keep a Positive Attitude

Attitude can affect how we feel and how others respond to us. A positive attitude can impact our physical health and emotional well-being; make hard things easier and easy things more fun. This is not to say that a positive attitude is something magic that will ward off any problems, but an optimistic outlook helps people work through the rough times with a belief in themselves and trust in the ultimate good. Try these ten suggestions for building and maintaining a positive attitude.

1. Associate (in person or virtually) with positive supportive people when possible.
2. Take some action every day toward accomplishing a goal.
3. Eat fresh, healthy food; exercise your body and your mind.
4. Make a gratitude list. [There is so much to be grateful for]
5. Do something kind for someone who would not expect it.
6. Notice something beautiful every day and tell someone about it.
7. Try your best not to focus on all the bad news going on —radio, television, newspaper. 
8. Look for what’s right instead of what’s wrong.
9. Celebrate the ordinary things. Never take them for granted.
10. For every no, say at least five yeses.

Oh, one more suggestion: Remember to think on some of the GOOD things in your life.

This blog post was originally published on May 13, 2020 on the Compass Consulting blog. https://www.compasschoices.com/when-bad-becomes-good-finding-meaning-in-thenegative-events/. Thank you to Dr. Petronella for the permission to share this post.

Dr. Rick Petronella is the president and founder of Compass Consulting and Affiliates, LLC. He has been a corporate consultant specializing in the areas of leadership development, executive coaching and organizational transformations in many corporations throughout the United States.

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