06/28/2013 07:25 pm ET Updated Aug 28, 2013

How to Find the Joy Even When You Are Sad

Sixteen days is a freaking long time when you are waiting to find out if the cancer has spread.

In those two-weeks-plus, I had a couple of sleepless nights. One anxiety attack -- which proved fascinating and scary almost all the same time. I had some tears when I was laying in bed during the night quiet after I put my nine-month-old down. There was also appreciation, compassion, a whole lot of gratitude, some prayer, and joy. Yes, joy.

I was cycling through a range of emotions. Happy, sad, scared, joyous, curious, grateful, ticked. But just as the moments of joy were brief during that time, so were the moments of sorrow and anger. In fact, most of the time, I was so busy feeding my kid rice cereal, washing clothes and drafting the book proposal that I wasn't stuck in one feeling or any place for very long at all.

That's part of what helped me get through it without losing my mind.

According to research, people who experience a range of emotions without being overwhelmed by the negative ones tend to bounce back from the difficulties faster. They adapt, find meaning, move into the next place. They are anything, but stuck. They are resilient.

Feel the Pain, Feel the Joy

It's not like the pain bounces off resilient people. It smacks them up between the eyes like the rest of us. But, they also tend to get their happy back instead of getting buried in the ick.

In this way, happiness is not so much as a coveted emotion as a coping strategy, says resilience researcher Barbara Fredrickson. Those who choose to cultivate positive emotion, those who can find pockets of happiness in the experience, also get curious. They find meaning in the difficulty, which helps them cope with the trouble at hand.

Challenges are going to come our way, after all. But, it's how how you choose to react and experience those bummer moments that will determine just how well you move through them.
Those people that allow themselves to experience a range of emotion, (not necessarily acting or behaving form them but just being with the emotion) and then grab onto one of the more positive ones are able to access the skills and info they will need to heal and recover.

In their research Jack Bauer and George Bonanno found that people dealing with grief after the loss of a spouse did better if they talked positively about the relationship -- even while they were grieving. When they recalled the good times, in the midst of their sadness and loss, they coped better.

Acknowledging your emotions and realizing that any given situation can offer an array of feelings -- in a single moment -- is important to thriving no matter what life tosses your way.

When I dabbled in the cancer experience, even in my worst moments when I was grouchy and scared and tired and wondering, I found meaning in the experience, gratitude, even happiness.

I believed there was something, some nugget of info, some prize that I would take with me like a promised party favor if I simply showed up and paid attention. Since I had to go to the party anyhow, I figured I would stay open to whatever appeared.

That kept me curious. I was paying attention and soon I was feeling more engaged than isolated. I was busy living rather than worrying about whether I was dying.

You can do this too. It's just a matter of practice.

Start now. Take a look at a less-than situation in your life right now and look at it from all sides. It's easy to become focused on the downside, but what I'm asking you to do now is focus on the other side.

Find the good, find the interesting, find the surprising. Get curious. It's tough to be scared, impossible to be stagnant, when you are curious. Look for the meaning. See what the situation holds for you. Don't get locked in the doomsday scenario. Reframe it, see what else is there.

There are lots of ways to bounce back from difficult times and cultivate resilience. These strategies won't keep you from the pain, only insure that you will get through it a little more gracefully.

For more by Polly Campbell, click here.

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