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Disappointments don’t have to stop you. They can even make you better.

4 Ways to Recover From Life’s Disappointments


  • The meaning you give to disappointment affects how you feel about it.

  • Refusing to globalize or personalize the disappointment can help you recover.

  • Disappointment isn’t inherently bad. Opportunity and growth can come from disappointing situations.

We all have dreams that sometimes get crushed. Not getting a call-back interview for your dream job. The partner who didn’t propose. The cute girl who ghosted you. Someone bidding higher on the perfect house you spent six months searching for. Events like these have the power to send you into a negative emotional spiral that can last for days and weeks. If enough disappointments stack up, some people give up on their dreams entirely.

Why is disappointment such a powerful negative emotion that people would often rather sacrifice their hopes and desires than feel its sting?

The answer lies in the meaning that you give to disappointment. The reality is, not getting what you want never feels good to anyone. However, the intensity with which you feel the emotion of disappointment can be exponentially magnified by your interpretation of it. The meaning you give can vary broadly. Depending on how you look at it, disappointment can be devastating or an opportunity for something better.

Below are four ways to re-frame and redefine what disappointment really means.

1. Don’t globalize disappointment.

If you globalize the disappointment in one situation to your entire life, then disappointment is going to cause a tremendous amount of pain. Globalizing sounds like this: If I don’t get what I want this time, it means I will never get what I want. If a relationship you have doesn’t work out and you believe that you will never have a relationship as great as the one you just lost, and you will have to suffer miserably on your own for the rest of your life, then the disappointment of that relationship not working out is going to feel monumental.

Instead, remind yourself that just because it didn’t work out this time doesn’t mean the future won’t be different. While some people like to say the past is the best predictor of the future, the reality is, the future is greatly influenced by what you decide to do next. If you decide that because your past relationship didn’t work out, you will never go on another date for the rest of your life, then you are allowing the past to limit you. But that is something that you can control. You are the only person who determines what actions you will take in the future.

2. Don’t personalize disappointment.

Another common way to make disappointment feel bigger than it deserves to be is to personalize the situation. Personalization sounds like this: If I don’t get what I want it means I am not good enough and don’t deserve it. When you overly personalize a disappointment, you make it about who you are as a person and do not take into account the many situational factors that had nothing to do with you.

If you apply for a job but don’t receive an interview, there were likely many qualified applicants for the position, or maybe they had already planned to hire someone before the job was even listed. If a relationship you were in doesn’t work out, it is possible the other person had commitment issues or wasn’t over a past relationship. The point here is there are always situational factors that influence any event.

Additionally, whether or not a situation works out the way you want it to says nothing about your worthiness then or in the future. While there may be some things you did to influence the situation in one way or another, what is important to realize is that it was one event, and events are what we experience; they are not who we are.

3. Don’t label the disappointment as “bad.”

Many people automatically assume that if something they don’t want happens to them, it's a “bad” thing that will likely lead to an even worse outcome down the road. If you don’t get a job you sought, you may think no one will ever hire you and you will be stuck living with your parents forever. Thinking this way inevitably makes you feel terrible.

Disappointing situations often have the potential to open the door to new events in our lives that we do want. If you miss your plane, you may end up meeting the love of your life on a different flight. If you lose your job and are forced to move to a new city, you may meet a great new set of friends, or find your dream home. You never know what will come of a situation, so rather than assuming a disappointing situation is bad, instead practice saying to yourself: I didn’t choose this, but let’s see what comes of it.

4. Learn from the disappointment.

Success is often built on failure. Some of the most successful people in the world weren’t successful until they encountered multiple disappointments and failures first.

  • Michael Jordan initially did not make his high school basketball team.

  • Steven Spielberg was rejected by the University of Southern California film school three times.

  • The Beatles were rejected by three different record companies before they were signed.

  • The book Chicken Soup for the Soul was reportedly rejected by publishers a total of 123 times. The series has sold more than 80 million copies.

There are thousands more stories just like these.

What helped these people become successful was that they didn’t allow the disappointment of rejection to keep them from trying again, and most importantly, they learned from each attempt how to improve and what they could do differently the next time.

Sometimes we aren’t yet ready for what we want, but the process of trying can help you get ready if you allow it to. If you don’t take disappointments as obstacles but rather as opportunities to learn, you empower yourself to grow.

Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D. Living Forward

Posted Mar 31, 2021

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