Staying positive during difficult times

To say we’re living through challenging times sounds like both a cliché and an understatement. In recent months, news about the pandemic, economic woes, and bitter political debates have triggered tremendous anxiety and sadness for many Americans.

But when people look back on their lives, it is usually the most difficult challenges that gave them a new perspective or caused them to grow the most. Of course, in the midst of a crisis, it doesn’t feel that way. But there are steps you can take to cope during difficult times, using techniques from the field of positive psychology.

How can positive psychology help in trying times?

Initially, positive psychology focused mainly on pursuing rewarding experiences that made people feel more joyful. But psychologists soon realized this sort of happiness depends on fleeting experiences, rather than a more enduring sense of contentment. As a result, the field shifted to concentrate on cultivating satisfaction and well-being but staying open to the full range of emotional experiences, both good and bad. Contrary to what you might expect, trying to resist painful emotions actually increases psychological suffering.

“Positive psychology is not about denying difficult emotions. It’s about opening to what is happening here and now, and cultivating and savoring the good in your life,” says Ron Siegel, PsyD, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.

If you develop the habit of counting your blessings, for example, you may be better able to appreciate the positive aspects of life that remain even after a painful event like a job loss or a death. And helping others, even when you are struggling, can increase your positive feelings and help you gain perspective.

Growing evidence suggests that positive psychology techniques can indeed be valuable in times of stress, grief, or other difficulties. They may also help you develop the resilience to handle difficulties more easily, and bounce back more rapidly after traumatic or unpleasant events. Here are three positive psychology practices you can try.

Be more mindful

Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgement. Learning to live more in the present is especially helpful when the future is uncertain. Formal mindfulness-based stress reduction programs have been shown to help reduce physical and psychological symptoms in people facing a variety of challenges, including cancer and chronic pain. To practice at home, you can try some of the free guided recordings of mindfulness meditations narrated by Dr. Siegel, available at

Share some kindness

Research suggests that people who volunteer their time tend to be happier than those who don’t. Those who give charitable donations may even get a small mood boost. Try this exercise: When you have a free afternoon, flip a coin. Heads, do something self-indulgent (for instance, give yourself a manicure). Tails, do something to help your community or another person (for example, call or write to an elderly person). Notice how you feel at the time and in the hours and days that follow.

Practice gratitude

Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what you receive, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, you acknowledge the goodness in your life. You can apply this to your past (by retrieving positive memories and being thankful for elements of your childhood or past blessings), the present (not taking things for granted as they come), and the future (being hopeful and optimistic that there will be good things arriving). Our brains are wired to take note of when things go wrong. But keeping a gratitude journal — writing down things you’re thankful for — makes you more aware of when things go right.


  1. Shanthi

    When you like someone, you find all common attributes of that person with yourself. When you find common attitudes, you like that person. This is an endless positive feedback loop.

    Same holds good when you do not like a person or behavior.
    It creates a negative feedback loop and highlights all the differences.

    Be mindful of this loop and break it if you need to. Easier said than done because we like ourselves. We are correct. Anyone who agrees with are right. Anyone who does not agree, does not understand me or he is wrong.

    You can guide the mind, and it will guide actions.

  2. Tom Vinetz

    With the Covid – 19 crisis, “Staying Positive During Difficult Times” is perhaps not the best choice for a subject title, assuming author did not attempt a bit of irony…

  3. Pastor VJ Dominique

    This blog is right on target for such a time as this. It is so easy to get bogged down in negativity and acrimony and lose sight of the ephemeral nature of time and plunge into feelings of hopelessness, and despair.
    Being more mindful, sharing kindness, and practicing gratitude are indeed immediate tangibles to get one out of the funk one finds oneself. I do think one other important practice that would strengthen the above recommendations and amplify the overall results, is the practice of prayer.
    Prayer is the ultimate lifeline to the Divine. It takes no special energy and requires no special skill. I believe altogether these will not only help one to stay positive during these turbulent times but will greatly help others as well within one’s sphere of influence.

  4. Akeem Adegbite

    Excellent post. Very helpful in the times of pandemic , etc .

  5. Rajesh

    Yes we’re living through a most challenging times in our life. The news about the pandemic, economic woes, political debates are sadness for Americans as well as whole world.
    There are tons of ways to live a happy life but that are not are not helpful for everyone.
    The simple way that can everyone follow to happy in their life are
    1.) Be mindful
    2.) Don’t compare anyone’s life, thought or something else
    3.) If you didn’t like someone’s thought’s don’t listen to them or don’t argue with them
    4.) Help poor people by giving them food, clothes etc
    Hopefully this will helps to be happy in your life

Commenting has been closed for this post.