Finding Happiness in Times of Adversity

Finding Happiness in Times of Adversity

Stress can manifest from traumatic events, or from lower intensity but frequent daily hassles.

Too much stress is a contributor to mental and physical health problems, even as far as to interfere with our immune system. An immediate solution to coping with stress is to seek social support—emotional resources provided by people who care about us, that genuinely have our best interests at heart. Seeking social support will help reduce the psychological distress caused by one, or an accumulation of stressful experiences.

Also adverse to our well-being is loneliness, either situational or chronic. Alas, a recent meta-analysis (Surkalim, et al. 2022) concluded that problematic levels of loneliness are experienced by a substantial proportion of the population in many countries. Loneliness occurs when a person has fewer satisfying relationships than desired. The key word here is satisfying relationships – relationships that are maintained, reciprocated, with relatable people who’s values we share. We can have many people around us but still feel lonely if those people are unreciprocating and unrelatable.

Loneliness often starts with people feeling left out or rejected in some way. This can manifest into falsely believing that they are undesirable company, stuck and unable to change. Subsequently they will compensate for these false beliefs by cutting themselves off from others to avoid future negative experiences.


Feeling lonely

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The reframe here is to perceive the self as capable of change, which allows people to feel rejection not as a condemnation, but rather as an opportunity for future improvement or growth. A Counsellor can help with interventions related to self-change—from seeing ourselves as fixed entities, to instead believing we are malleable and capable of incremental change. Moreover, to help improve people’s resilience in the face of adversity, reducing the likelihood of depression.

Another method of dealing with adversity such as stress and loneliness is regular exercise. Yet, adherence is difficult, and motivation can wane without social support. Wearable technology such as Whoop or Fitbit can link people with others monitoring their exercise, and help people stay motivated by creating an affiliation with others using the device. Through affiliation we feel connected which in turn reduces the effects of adversity and provides a sense of control. Joining groups can foster social connectedness and help prevent depression. Following a failure experience, thinking about groups we belong to protects us by undermining any unhelpful, self-blaming ideas around causality.



Reframing any self-blame when faced with adversity – forgiveness.

Forgiving ourselves for failing (as in the behavior of procrastination) can improve functioning, lower the risk for depression, and inspire us not to make the same mistake next time. People are better able to enact self-change when it is framed as a new beginning. This approach helps to disconnect from the past imperfect self and sets the stage for pursuing new goals.

Happiness – often referred to as subjective well-being (Diener,2000) can be thought of as having four basic components: global life satisfaction, satisfaction with specific life domains, a high level of positive feelings, and a minimum of negative feelings. Happy people report experiencing a higher frequency of positive emotions and a lower frequency of negative emotions than unhappy people do.

Happiness is cultivated primarily from close ties with friends and family and being part of an extended social network. Happy people are more community-oriented, they invest in experiences over material items, invest in personal interests, and avoid counterproductive thinking and behaviour. People high in subjective well-being are more likely to experience better work outcomes (raises, productivity, promotions, job satisfaction), have more high-quality social relationships, report better health, and live longer than unhappy people.

Money beyond a certain point, does not buy happiness. It comes from valuing the things we have—being grateful for them and enjoying them. Focusing on obtaining more things reduces our ability to enjoy present pleasurable experiences. Interestingly, many of the characteristics needed to be a successful entrepreneur are the same ones that contribute to happiness levels (Ryan, 2000). They typically have strong intrinsic motivation; they stick to work or activities that they enjoy; and this is where they find meaning in their lives. Entrepreneurs are also high in self-efficacy, social skills, and use their social networks to help themselves succeed.



Can you be too happy?

Under some circumstances yes, people can be too happy (Oishi, 2007). Very high levels of happiness can foster complacency or lead to baseless overoptimism. However, expanding evidence supports the idea that happiness levels are fundamentally changeable. That after experiencing intense happiness or reward, we will always return to a personal baseline over time.


Diener, E. (2000). Subjective well-being: The science of happiness and a proposal for a national index. American Psychologist, 55(1), 34–43.
Ryan, R. M.; Deci, E. L. (2000). “Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being”. American Psychologist. 55 (1): 68–78.
Oishi, S., Diener, E., & Lucas, R. E. (2007). The Optimum Level of Well-Being: Can People Be Too Happy? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2(4), 346–360.
Surkalim D L, Luo M, Eres R, Gebel K, van Buskirk J, Bauman A et al. The prevalence of loneliness across 113 countries: systematic review and meta-analysis BMJ 2022; 376 :e067068 doi:10.1136/bmj-2021-067068