The How of Happiness – Strategies For Coping

The sixth happiness boosting activity from “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky is:

Developing Strategies for Coping

There are lots of times when we are in stressful or difficult situations.  Knowing how to deal with them when they come up is a way to minimize their negative impact and keep up our happiness.

Some examples of such events: a friend/loved one/family member/pet has passed on, pressure and deadlines at work, you find our your baby has a heart problem and needs immediate surgery, your car is totaled in an accident and your insurance just ran out,  a friend or possible intimate is not returning calls, etc.

Psychology tends to divide coping into two types: problem focused and emotion focused.

problem focused people tend to want to act – take the problem into their own hands and deal with it.

Emotion Focused people tend to want to simply manage their emotions around the event in whatever way works.

In general people tend to use problem focused coping when they believe something constructive can be done about the problem, and emotion focused when it is something that simply must be endured.

Both types are valuable and useful in different situations.

Lyubomirsky also mentions (and this is something I’ve come across many times in my research) that if we tend to have a more postive outlook in general, we can actually find benefit and even thrive after times of hardship.

This is called Post Traumatic Growth.

“What doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger”  is a cliche for a reason.


Because when you are confronted with such dire times it forces you to confront your own sense of self – who you are, what are your priorities, where do you find meaning, and so on.  It can be a very transformative experience, that can create the following experiences:

  • Renewed belief in self and ability to endure / prevail
  • Improved relationships – discovering who your true friends are
  • Feeling more comfortable with intimacy and greater compassion
  • Developing a deeper, more sophisticated, more satisfying philosophy of life

So the question is HOW do you do this right?

Some important factors to thriving are:

  • Social support
  • Finding meaning in what is happening
  • Perseverance and keeping an attitude of optimistic and positive growth.
  • Remembering to live your life to it’s fullest.

Here are some of the specific activities she mentions:

Expressive Writing – write about a traumatic experience in detail and explore your feelings around it fully.  Do this for 15 to 30 min. a day for three to five days, or until you feel everything has been fully expressed.  This activity helps people let such things go and participants in studies find that after they do this they have: enhanced immune function, less depression and distress, and do better in school or work.  (These effects probably stem from the fact that we have less stress around that event now in general)

Finding Benefit – As a more guided for of writing (or talking to others) try these three steps:

  1. Acknowledge that your loss or trauma has caused you a great deal of pain and suffering.  Consider what you have done during this loss or in response to it that you are proud of.
  2. Consider how much you have grown as a result of your loss.  Any new perspectives, new beliefs, greater compassion, gratitude, patience, tolerance, etc.
  3. Finally think about how the trauma has positively affected your relationships.  Are they stronger, closer, more supportive?

This might help you to find some good that has come out of a negative experience.

Thought Disputation

This involved challenging negative thoughts you have when bad things happen.  It follows the following pattern

  • Adversity – write down the nature of the bad event or problem.
  • Belief – identify any negative beliefs or perspectives that have come up around this.
  • Consequence – record the consequences of the problem (how you are feeling and acting as a result
  • Dispute – challenge the negative belief, thinking of other possible reasons for the problem.
  • Energize – considering more optimistic explanations for you problem lifts your spirits so that you become less anxious and more hopeful


  • A – my best friend has called in three weeks.
  • B – she must hate me.
  • C – I feel miserable / I’ve never been good at keeping friends.
  • D – perhaps she has been extremely busy (I remember her mentioning a big thing at work she was working on.  Maybe she is feeling down herself and is wondering why I haven’t called.
  • E – now that I think about it I do have lots of close friends.  I really should give her a call and talk with her. Also I think I will go to that party I was going to skip out on tonight after all!

The hardest part of this is the disputation – challenging an existing belief to the point that you can change it to something more positive.   Here are some tips to consider:

  • What concrete evidence to I have?
  • What alternative explanations might there be?
  • Even if my belief is true, is it really that bad?
  • What is the best possible thing that could come out of this?
  • What do I honestly think is the most likely outcome?
  • Is this belief useful to me?  What do I get out of having it?
  • What can I do / what do I plan to do to address this?

By the way coaches are great people to help bring up some of these questions and help to challenge beliefs you want to change.

Next time: Learning to Forgive.

Until then, keep laughing, it’s also a great way to help cope!

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