36 Ways to Find a Silver Lining During Challenging Times

Finding the Silver LiningWe’ve all been there.

Whether it’s a bad day or a truly terrible situation, life will try to knock us down.

Fortunately, many coping strategies have been found to be effective at minimizing the effects of hardship. One simple but powerful way to enhance resilience is to find silver linings within painful or arduous situations.

This article provides numerous tips, techniques, and resources to guide readers in discovering the silver linings that will enhance perseverance during dark times.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Resilience Exercises for free. These engaging, science-based exercises will help you effectively deal with difficult circumstances and give you the tools to improve the resilience of your clients, students, or employees.

What Is a Silver Lining?

Silver linings are simply the good aspects of challenging or painful situations. The ability to perceive silver linings is an optimistic mindset that promotes emotional resilience and the ability to adapt to future challenges (Seery, 2011).

This hopeful approach enables people to view situations through a cognitive filter in which they perceive themselves as able to cope with stressors effectively.

Keep your face to the sunshine, and you cannot see a shadow.

Helen Keller

The ability to find a silver lining and the construct of optimism go hand in hand, and there is clear evidence that the latter is related to many positive outcomes. For example, Forgeard and Seligman (2012) noted numerous studies linking optimism to desirable outcomes such as positive emotional wellbeing, good health, and even lower mortality.

Here is a list of some additional studies:

  • An association between optimism and higher pain tolerance among cancer patients (Goodin & Bulls, 2013)
  • Healthy aging (Wrosch, Jobin, & Scheier, 2016)
  • The ability to adapt to stressful life events (Kivimäki et al., 2005)
  • Lower levels of depression (Chang, Yu, & Hirsch, 2013)
  • Better occupational outcomes (Kluemper, Little, & DeGroot, 2009)

These studies, along with many more, indicate that an optimistic perspective has a buffering effect on the impact of stress by enhancing adaptive mechanisms such as problem solving coping, emotion regulation, healthy lifestyle, and flexibility (Conversano et al., 2010; Wrosch et al., 2016).

 

22 Practical Tips for Finding a Silver Lining

VolunteerThere are many ways for each of us to find a silver lining in the most taxing of circumstances.

Here are 22 examples.

 

1. Be optimistic

Learned optimism is a skill linked to motivation. Those who are optimistic tend to engage in constructive effort; whereas, disengagement from effort is more typical of pessimists (Carver & Scheier, 2014).

Given the numerous benefits of optimism, increasing this powerful construct is worth the effort.

 

2. Practice compassion

Compassion toward others is not only moral and kind, but its benefits extend to both the giver and the recipient. Or, as noted by the Dalai Lama:

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

Compassion is like an elixir that promotes gratitude, wellbeing, and, of course, the ability to see a silver lining.

 

3. Do service work

Helping others is a practical way to put one’s compassion to work. In doing so, people tend to think less about themselves while interacting with those who are less fortunate. Service work is a great way to enhance gratitude and a positive outlook while supporting one’s community.

Here are 20 more reasons why compassion is important.

 

4. Be grateful

Gratitude has an amazing ability to energize coping and positivity during the bleakest of times.

When facing challenges, appreciating valued aspects of life has a way of putting things into a more manageable perspective.

 

5. Recognize self-fulfilling prophecies

Be wary of the story you tell yourself, as you may find yourself acting it out. For example, a man who repeatedly tells himself that he is unathletic will end up avoiding healthy behaviors such as exercising. Such a mindset obscures the man’s ability to see the many good things about himself and that he has been physically fit in the past.

 

6. Question your thinking

It is common for people to get caught up in the maladaptive cycle of believing their own thoughts, no matter how unrealistic or unfounded they may be. Individuals have to question their beliefs and thoughts and make these lose their power if they are false.

Read this article on Living With Your Inner Critic if you find maladaptive thoughts to be a particular challenge.

 

7. Learn when to approach a situation with acceptance, courage, and wisdom

This idea is beautifully articulated by the Serenity Prayer (Sifton, 2003), as follows:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

Although often associated with 12-step groups, the Serenity Prayer applies to all parts of life.

Consider, for example, someone having a tough time during a pandemic. In this case, a person may find relief in acceptance (e.g., this pandemic will be here for some time), courage (e.g., doing the necessary things to stay safe), and wisdom (e.g., having a good understanding of what is controllable and what is not).

Knowing when to let go versus take action promotes both empowerment and hope in many different situations.

 

8. Find things to look forward to

If you are looking toward the future and are not excited about anything, then it’s time to find something to look forward to.

It doesn’t need to be elaborate or expensive; it should just be something that will make you feel happy (e.g., dinner with a special friend, a new book, a weekend getaway, etc.). Looking forward to something meaningful provides hope in the face of gloom.

 

9. Consider it a challenge

Perspective is everything. If a person is given a big task at work for which they feel woefully under-qualified, seeing the assignment as an exciting opportunity to learn makes it feel less like a burden and more like an opportunity for growth.

 

10. Remember your prior successes

When we get bogged down by a situation, it may be easy to forget our capabilities. Finding a silver lining is aided by remembering prior successes, which enhances confidence and self-efficacy.

Along these lines, remembering that you have found silver linings in the past is yet another reminder of your inner resilience.

 

11. Find good role models

Fortunately, optimism is contagious. By surrounding yourself with people who inspire you and see the glass as half full, this perspective is likely to rub off on you as well.

 

12. Be a socially responsible leader

The ability to find silver linings is essential in all aspects of life, including work. For example, researchers have indicated that CEOs who are high in social responsibility are higher in ethical responsibility, which is related to greater optimism among subordinates (De Hoogh & Den Hartog, 2008).

Moreover, moderate optimism among CEOs is related to reduced staff turnover (Campbell, Gallmeyer, Johnson, Rutherford, & Stanley, 2011). Therefore, applying optimism at work makes a world of difference in terms of many important occupational outcomes.

 

13. Model a positive attitude for your children

Given that optimism is learned, parents are responsible for showing their children how to see the good side of things. By modeling such positivity, parents better equip their kids with important coping tools.

 

14. Practice authoritative parenting

An authoritative parenting style is assertive, but not intrusive; demanding, but responsive; and supportive in terms of discipline, but not punitive (Baumrind, 1991).

This approach is linked to numerous positive youth outcomes, such as higher optimism levels among adolescents (Sarı Cenk, 2008). Consequently, authoritative parenting provides kids with the ability to better persevere through enhanced optimism and other protective qualities.

 

15. Watch out for ‘What If’ thinking

A chronic case of the “What Ifs” never did anyone much good. When we always think about what might have happened, we often find ourselves overcome with regret as we ruminate over perceived mistakes.

This is a counterproductive endeavor, as we can’t change the past. Instead of getting bogged down by What Ifs, try to instead reflect upon what you might do now to make things better.

 

16. Avoid catastrophizing

Catastrophizing is a cognitive distortion in which a situation is overblown or future expectations are considered bleak.

It is similar to the What Ifs in terms of worrying over hypothetical situations, although it is directed toward the future. This pessimistic attitude is associated with various negative outcomes (e.g., affective distress, poorer treatment results, increased pain sensitivity, etc.; Edwards, Bingham, Bathon, & Haythornthwaite, 2006).

Of course, we can’t know the future, and expecting the worst only diminishes a person’s self-efficacy and likelihood of experiencing joy.

 

17. Know your triggers

We all have triggers for a variety of emotions. If you consistently feel hopeless and pessimistic in particular situations (e.g., after watching the news or in certain social situations), recognize these triggers and find ways to avoid or manage them in the future.

 

18. Use positive mantras

Mantras consist of sounds or phrases that when repeated, are useful in guiding thoughts in a desired direction. For example, a person who is having difficulty with self-confidence might repeat the mantra “I am fully capable and competent” each morning.

Using mantras is a simple technique that has been found to be beneficial for both physical and emotional health (Deekshitulu, 2015).

 

19. Practice forgiveness

When a person is preoccupied with feelings of anger at others, they are less open to experiencing a sense of optimism. Not only does letting go through forgiveness free a person from resentment, but it is also associated with better psychological and health-related outcomes (Rasmussen, Stackhouse, Boon, Comstock, & Ross, 2019).

Interestingly, the benefits of forgiveness have been found to be particularly evident for self-forgiveness relative to forgiveness of others (Wilson, Milosevic, Carroll, Hart, & Hibbard, 2008).

 

20. Do the things that bring you joy

Even during the most difficult times, the ability to get involved in activities that make you happy is essential for enhancing wellbeing. Such activities need not be costly, and even by watching a sunset, a person is reminded of the beauty that exists in nature.

 

21. Practice healthy life habits

Persistent negativity is exacerbated by unpleasant physical sensations such as fatigue or feeling run down.

By eating a healthy diet and getting adequate sleep, it is easier to feel positive when facing a challenge.

 

22. Start each day with positivity

Everyone is familiar with the expression: “woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” However, starting the day with a deep breath and peaceful, optimistic thoughts may shift a day’s trajectory into a more encouraging direction.

 

11 Techniques for Helping Your Clients

Teach Self-LoveMany therapeutic activities designed to increase positivity occur within the context of positive Cognitive–Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

With CBT, “emotional disorders are maintained by cognitive factors, and psychological treatment leads to changes in these factors through cognitive and behavioral techniques” (Hofmann & Smits, 2008).

In other words, by combining both cognitive and behavioral approaches, CBT focuses on how thoughts and behaviors dictate a person’s feelings in a given situation. While any type of therapist may use the techniques below, they are especially common tools among cognitive-behavioral therapists.

 

1. Teach mindfulness

A mindfulness-based approach follows Buddhist philosophy by teaching clients how to pay attention to their feelings and thoughts in the moment and without judgment (Kabat-Zinn, 2005).

This open-minded approach promotes acceptance and openness, which aids clients in focusing their attention in peaceful and positive directions.

 

2. Teach relaxation

Relaxation techniques are commonly used as part of mindfulness approaches.

When a person is uptight and anxious, silver linings are easily concealed. However, by helping clients increase relaxation while removing negative or stressful judgments, practitioners can help clients get to a better place to deal with emotional stressors reflectively instead of reflexively (Hofmann, Sawyer, Witt, & Oh, 2010).

Relaxation may be enhanced with the use of positive visualization, wherein clients visualize themselves responding to a situation in an optimal way.

 

3. Use cognitive restructuring

Nonadaptive cognitive schemas serve as barriers to positive thinking. Ruminating over a situation generally leaves a person feeling hopeless and unable to cope.

With cognitive restructuring, therapists work with clients to identify dysfunctional automatic thoughts and cognitive distortions, dispute automatic thoughts, and create rational rebuttals to such thoughts (Hope, Burns, Hayes, & Warner, 2010). In doing so, clients are able to replace dysfunctional appraisals of situations with those that are more positive and manageable.

 

4. Promote positive self-talk

Self-talk consists of the voice we all hear in the back of our minds. This inner dialogue, which is often so automatic as to feel unconscious, has the potential to guide us in various directions.

When the dialogue is consistently negative, it becomes deleterious to feelings of self-worth and happiness. After all, imagine if someone followed you around all day repeating a nasty phrase about you. You probably wouldn’t tolerate it. However, a mean voice in one’s mind may be far more damaging.

Fortunately, mantras, cognitive restructuring, and other CBT techniques are beneficial for helping clients notice their self-talk and work toward more positive inner dialogues.

 

5. Help clients identify and challenge irrational beliefs

Noted cognitive psychologist Albert Ellis has been helping people modify irrational thinking through his Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy approach. This strategy enables clients to discover the irrational beliefs that bring them down and get in the way of happiness (Ellis, 1994). By challenging such beliefs, clients are better able to face tough situations with confidence.

 

6. Teach self-love

Helping clients learn self-love enables them to avoid self-recrimination, which only serves to erode self-esteem and happiness.

Instead, self-love is a comforting perspective that enables people to see the positive qualities in themselves, along with the silver linings in various circumstances.

 

7. Teach self-reflective practices

Some clients benefit from journaling or other types of self-reflective approaches.

Doing so is useful for reminding people of situations that trigger negative or self-deprecating thinking, as well as those that promote contentment, gratitude, and other desirable feelings.

 

8. Help clients to identify realistic goals

Grasping toward unrealistic goals is a recipe for disaster. By guiding clients toward achievable goals, counselors place them in a position where they are more likely to succeed and feel good about their achievements.

 

9. Teach social and emotional learning (SEL) to children

For clinicians who work with young people, SEL approaches are useful ways to foster the self-awareness and interpersonal skills needed to promote positive youth development.

SEL techniques have been found to be effective at placing kids on healthy trajectories characterized by empathy, peer acceptance, and optimism (Schonert-Reichl et al., 2015).

 

10. Teach positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement, which was developed as part of Skinner’s (1938) operant learning theory, basically entails rewarding desired behaviors so that the behavior becomes reinforced and is more likely to occur again.

Teaching clients to identify meaningful rewards for positive behaviors is a highly motivating way to enhance desired outcomes and the positive emotions associated with them. This approach may be supplemented with self-monitoring techniques, in which the client keeps track of their goal-directed behaviors.

 

11. Take a humanistic approach

Humanistic counselors believe that their clients possess the qualities necessary to flourish. This approach encourages clients to reach their full potential as human beings while fostering curiosity, intuition, creativity, humility, empathy, and altruism (Giorgi, 2005; Robbins, 2008).

As such, a humanistic perspective supports individuals in discovering and embracing the goodness within themselves.

 

3 Recommend Books That Teach Optimism

Many people find informative books useful for learning how to be more positive and optimistic, but they aren’t sure which ones to choose. Providing clients with reading suggestions empowers them with useful resources that may be applied at home.

Here are three examples:

 

1. The Hope Circuit: A Psychologist’s Journey from Helplessness to Optimism (2018) – Martin E. P. Seligman

The Hope Circuit

This book is written by a renowned positive psychology professor and optimism expert.

It provides personal examples and science-based explanations for the invaluable benefits of optimism, gratitude, and many other positive constructs.

Available on Amazon.

 

 

2. Incorrigible Optimist: 9 Easy Steps with Self-Help Book to Make Your Life More Positive & Happy (2018) – Mark Allen

Incorrigible optimist

This easy-to-follow book provides readers with nine habits shown to promote an optimistic mindset.

The book is specifically designed to equip readers with the necessary tools for finding silver linings in seemingly bleak situations.

Available on Amazon.

 

 

3. Positive Thinking: Change Your Attitude, Change Your Life! (2015) – Theo Gold

Positive Thinking

This motivating book describes the way in which positive thinking enhances a person’s life.

The author teaches readers how to quiet negative thinking while providing relatable,
real-life examples.

Available on Amazon.

 

 

PositivePsychology.com’s Resources

Many clients are responsive to homework in the form of worksheets and activities. Fortunately, PositivePsychology.com has many such resources.

Our Toolkit contains numerous tools aimed at promoting optimism, resilience, confidence, and other qualities that better enable individuals to find those often elusive silver linings.

Here are three excellent examples:

 

1. The Best Possible Resilient Self

The goal of the Best Possible Resilient Self tool is to help clients develop optimism and confidence in their ability to overcome a personal challenge.

It consists of the following five steps:

  1. Describing a challenging situation
  2. Visualizing the most resilient version of themselves
  3. Describing their most resilient self
  4. Interviewing their most resilient self
  5. Reflecting on the above steps (e.g., noting feelings regarding their future self, identifying key takeaways from the self-interviews, etc.).

By using this exercise, readers are better able to overcome future challenges.

 

2. Benefit Finding

The Benefit Finding exercise is designed to enhance awareness of the potential benefits of negative life events in order to boost resilience.

The tool contains the following two steps:

  1. Discussing a traumatic event along with emotions and thoughts associated with it

  2. Focusing on the possible benefits of this situation. This step also contains several questions to use as guidance (e.g., “What has the experience taught you?”)

By following these steps, individuals will find themselves more resilient and confident in their ability to find benefits in the difficult situations they may encounter.

 

3. The Energy Audit

The goal of the Energy Audit exercise is to help clients manage their energy levels throughout the day in order to enhance health and productivity.

The tool contains the following four steps:

  1. Tracking daily energy levels with the use of a Track Energy Log, noting their energy level and what they were doing during each hour of the day

  2. Plotting hourly energy levels on a graph in order to notice how energy waxes and wanes over the course of the day

  3. Evaluating energy patterns by answering a series of questions

  4. Considering the times when energy was the lowest and coming up with ways to replenish energy resources during such moments

In managing their changing energy levels, clients can use this activity to increase strength and resilience when it is most needed.

 

A Take-Home Message

Hard times are an inevitable part of life. This statement is particularly evident today as we face significant global challenges.

Everyone’s challenges are unique, and finding silver linings is not easy; but when we can focus on the positive, we tend to fare much better.

Sometimes you may have to dig deep and change your perspective to see the positive. At times, challenges are so deep and mind numbing that the silver lining is only noted later, but it is there.

We hope that this article may help you start your search for a silver lining. Sometimes all you need to do to see the silver lining is lift up your head.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article and that it encouraged you. Please don’t forget to download our three Resilience Exercises for free.

If you wish to offer your clients even more, our Realizing Resilience Masterclass© is a complete, science-based, six-module resilience training template for practitioners that contains all the materials you’ll need to help your clients overcome adversity in a more resilient way.

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About the Author

Heather Lonczak holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology with a focus on Positive Youth Development. She has published numerous articles aimed at reducing health disparities and promoting positive psychosocial youth outcomes (e.g., academic achievement, cultural identity, mindfulness and belief in the future). Heather is also a children’s book author whose publications primarily center around the enhancement of child resilience, as well as empathy and compassion for wildlife.

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