When I think of the term, “silver lining,” my mind automatically goes to the movie, “Silver Linings Playbook.” This movie is about a teacher named Pat, who is released from a mental health institution to live at his parents’ house. This all happens after he flips out on his wife and beats up her lover, and then he loses her and his teaching job. Pat goes through enormous, life-altering changes, while also trying to control his bi-polar disorder without medication. Throughout the movie, he keeps reiterating the word, “excelsior,” which is a Latin word that means, “ever upward.” During his journey, he meets a woman named Tiffany who has been struggling with depression since the death of her husband, and the two form an unlikely friendship. Pat never gives up on his silver lining, even though the movie ends quite differently from what Pat originally hopes will happen.
I have always wanted to be an optimistic person (like Pat), but sometimes my anxiety gets the better of me. It wasn’t until I met my boyfriend, Chris, that I really started to understand that being optimistic does not mean just letting things work out for the best. I believe that Chris would NOT characterize himself as optimist, but rather would call himself a realist. He has a way of intuitively understanding situations and seeing the bigger picture. In my opinion, he has many characteristics of what I call a “realistic optimist,” something which I hope to become. I’ll outline what these characteristics are further on in the post.
So how can you find your silver linings? The original idiom says that “every cloud has a silver lining.” In real life, clouds do appear to have silver linings when the sun is directly behind them. Because the top layer is less dense than the rest of the cloud, it appears lighter and sometimes silver to the human eye. Even if you perceive an experience to be negative, you can find something about it that is positive or helpful to you in the future. This may sound like bizarre, pie-in-the-sky thinking, but I really believe that this is true.
Ways to Discover Your Silver Lining
Re-Evaluate the Situation
First, let yourself feel disappointed, upset, angry, saddened, or whatever emotion that the situation immediately elicits in you. One way that Chris embodies a realistic optimist is that he doesn’t dwell at all on his emotions when it comes to negative situations. Why is that? He claims that it’s not helpful. I have to agree that this is right, but I am just WAY more emotional than him. Sometimes I need to just let it out before I can move on.
Try to view the situation from a non-judgmental perspective and analyze it objectively. Be determined to find 3 things that are neutral or positive about your situation and write it down! This is called cognitive re-appraisal or cognitive re-evaluation. I’m a big WORST-CASE scenario person sometimes, and I can go down the rabbit’s hole quickly with my anxious thinking. Ask yourself: Did the worst really happen? What could the worst have been? Chances are, the worst did NOT happen to you.
Another characteristic that Chris has that I admire is that he is always seeing the opportunity and potential in each experience. Ask yourself, if such and such had not happened, would this opportunity still be present for me? It’s a way of seeing the glass half-full rather than half-empty. I also believe that this way of thinking builds faith in yourself and how capable you are. Sometimes it may take time to see the opportunity that is present in otherwise negative circumstances.
Sometimes our brains are at fault for putting negative connotations on situations. You may put a judgment or label on a circumstance, without just letting it be. It helps to really look at the facts of a situation, without creating your own fiction about what it means. Remember to ask yourself if the situation will matter a year from now. Most of the time, it won’t matter anymore.
Solve It If You Can
Use the situation as fuel to be a problem-solver. Maybe you don’t have control over all aspects of the circumstance, but you do have SOME control. Even if it’s simply over your own thoughts on the matter. YOU, you have the power to do something about it. If there’s another thing that truly defines Chris, it’s the ability to come up with multiple solutions to problems. If a solution doesn’t work, he’s ready with another one.
Create a problem-solving game plan for yourself that is also realistic. If you need to make Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, and so on…go for it! It can only help to settle your mind more by having a distinct plan to follow (if you’re like me, at least!). It is so important to be solution-oriented, so that you can come to terms with your current reality, instead of ignoring the situation or just hoping it will get better. Most people don’t like change, and especially may not love a whole lotta change at once. Change can be painful or uncomfortable…it’s like growing pains. You have to accept it for what it is and understand that what you are experiencing is NOT going to last forever. It’s only temporary.
It’s helpful to also view the circumstance as a challenge that you can overcome. I always get super worried about getting observed for teacher evaluations, even though I know that I’m a wonderful teacher! I can have difficulty accepting criticism, and often take it to heart. If you have strong self-esteem, you can learn to take criticism in a healthy way and understand that criticism is not an attack on your character. It’s helpful to think of evaluations and criticism as advice that can make you even better at what you do!
When you are dealing with a life-altering situation, you have to accept it as it is. Don’t put the blame on others, and don’t make excuses for why things are the way they are. Why? It’s going to prevent you from truly understanding the situation and what you have the power to do. By placing blame and making excuses, you are giving the power to someone else. In order to affect any positive change, you need to come to terms with both your own culpability and your strength.
Change Your Mindset
In many circumstances, you can’t change the actual outcome, so you have to change your mindset. This is potentially the hardest challenge of all. By asking yourself lots of questions and reflecting on the situation, you may be able to discover what the silver lining of a situation is. Here is a list of questions that may help you in your reflection.
- What have I learned from this situation?
- How has this situation made me stronger?
- What positive outcomes have come out of the situation?
- How have I grown as a person from experiencing this?
- Are you proud of how you handled the situation? Why?
- What new skills have you developed as a result of this?
Another optimistic characteristic that Chris embodies is that he can decide whether he’s going to let something affect him or not. There was once a quote that I read when I was going through a really tough time with depression and anxiety. It meant a lot to me, because I was simultaneously beating myself up over what had happened in the past and also non-stop worrying about what was going to become of me. This quote reads: “Worry is a total waste of time. It doesn’t change anything. All it does is steal your joy and keep you very busy doing nothing.” Of course, this is easier said than done! The next part of this post is about how to bring yourself back to emotional equilibrium so that you can work on shifting your mindset and being a problem-solver, so that you can find your silver lining. I am a super worrier and can be overly emotional, so if you are too, I’m hoping that this can help you out.
Finding Emotional Equilibrium
This quote means so much to me. If Anne Frank could experience what she went through, and still find things to be grateful for, then I have no doubt that we can all do the same. My friend Michelle bought me “The Happiness Project: One-Sentence Journal” by Gretchen Rubin. It’s a journal that you can use for 5 years. Each page starts with the date and a positive quote. It also has a line for you to write the year and one-sentence. I have been listing 5 things that I am grateful for each day. It’s wonderful to also be able to look back and think about all of the things that have brought me happiness within the past year. Part of gratitude may mean feeling grateful for you and who you are as a person. Really consider who and what really makes you feel happy, despite whatever else may be going wrong or right in your life. You can also be grateful to people who have supported you and given you love by sharing your gratitude in person, giving them a call, sending a text, shooting them an email, or giving them a gratitude letter.
Reframing Your Mind for Positivity
If you are having trouble stopping yourself from worrying about the situation, find other ways to bring positivity into your day. Have a sense of humor about it if you can. Being able to not take yourself and bad experiences so seriously can do wonders for you. Here is a blog post that talks about making laughter a priority in your life. I also like to do some things that will make me happy, like walking my dog, watching one of my favorite movies, doing calligraphy, reading a good book, or listening to podcasts. Staying present in the moment and distracting yourself with other things is super helpful. If you are doubting yourself, talk to yourself the way that you would talk to a friend (we tend to be kinder to others than to ourselves). Think of your past achievements and how it may disprove what you are anxious about. In general, surround yourself with positivity, by reading positive quotes or books, listening or watching inspirational podcasts or movies, and being around people you buoy your spirit. Try to begin your day in a positive way and move slowly and mindfully throughout the day.
Find Ways to Snap You Out of It
Back when I felt my worst, I learned several coping methods that helped to calm me down when I felt overwhelmed. To this day, these coping methods still help me when I am having an anxiety attack. I drink some hot tea, read a book, and take a hot shower. If I do all three things, I can usually bounce back to normal. This will vary based on your personality or preferences, of course. Find ways that you can relax and trim a few items off from your to-do list that aren’t pressing.
Use Your Mind-Body Connection
Our minds and bodies are inextricably linked for better and for worse. If you are having trouble maintaining emotional equilibrium, make sure that you are still taking care of yourself physically. These days, I exercise more for the mental and emotional benefits than for the physical benefits. I wrote 2 previous posts about finding fitness you love, and why it’s important (for reasons beyond losing weight), and why you should ditch the scale (and enjoy exercise in and of itself). In addition to exercise, making sure that you get quality sleep and eat healthily will help you feel much better. In the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about focusing on breathing to help quiet my mind and calm my body too.
Call in the Reinforcements
I know that when I’m having trouble coping with a situation, that I can always call my mom. I have certain people that I know will either distract me or boost me up with their positivity. These are the people that you want to surround yourself with when you’re trying to maintain emotional balance. Good friends and family members will allow you to let it all out, and in return you can help or listen to them too! It’s definitely a good trade-off.
Becoming a Realistic Optimist
I hope that this post can help you to find your silver lining in even the most difficult circumstances. I love that the best way to be optimistic like Chris is to also be realististic. Here are the key points to being an optimistic realist! I’d love to hear about how difficult circumstances that you’ve faced have changed you for the better. Do share!