• David Strittmatter

How to best deal with highs and lows in life

There would be no cloud-nine days without rock-bottom moments left below. ― Richelle E. Goodrich

Photo by Tina Rataj on Unsplash

Summary:

  • Highs and lows are an integral part of life - but we often forget this certainty

  • We usually underestimate our "psychological immune system"; no matter how bad we feel, our "psychological robustness" ensures we will converge towards "baseline" happiness

  • At the same time, however, hedonic adaptation will also make the highs of our life only a temporary endeavor

Practical advice:

  • By actually noticing our highs, appreciating them consciously, and focusing on the moment, we can experience them even longer

  • Talk to other people about your experiences, write down your appreciation and gratitude, and take pictures and videos to capture your best moments

  • Consciously choose constructive expressions when faced with events that bring us down

Dear friend,


have you ever experienced that: Life goes better than ever. You are happy, grateful, and don't have to worry about anything. So, you ask yourself how long is that going to last?


Currently, I'm happy. 10/10 happy. I've never experienced so much joy in my life. I'm thriving in my job, I'm with the greatest girlfriend I couldn't even have dreamed of, I'm surrounded by a wonderful family and great friends, ... Nothing to complain about, right?


Yet, my life won't always be like that. For sure, that's going to change. Like the ocean's tides, our lives consist of lows and highs. A high will follow each low, and a low will follow each high. What's different, though, we don't know how long each "tide" will last.


This certainty has powerful implications we can make use of to make our lives a little better.


In today's blog article, I will write about the lows and highs of life, how to best deal with the lows, and how we can enjoy our highs the most.


Highs and lows in life


No matter how calm and stable our lives appear, a closer look reveals ups and downs, whether of our own making or down to circumstances outside our control. It sounds trivial - highs and lows are just part of life - but we often forget this certainty.


When we get to know the person whom we want to stay with for the rest of our life, when we get the job we ever dreamed of, when we have the craziest parties with our friends, when we hold our first child in our hands... these "high" life moments are integral parts of our lives. We all will have those, and we all will feel similarly pleased.


Contrarily, we all will experience dark moments or even longer periods in our lives. Life is definite, and so, sooner or later, there will be periods of grief because one of our loved ones passed away. Simultaneously, luck and timing are crucial factors for success. Sooner or later, we will fail at some point in our lives. These lows are inevitable.


Hedonic adaptation


Regarding the lows in our lives, we usually underestimate our "psychological immune system". We're actually a lot more resilient than we like to think. Hedonic Adaptation - the process of becoming accustomed to both positive and negative circumstances - is a great help when we're faced with the lows of life. No matter how bad we feel, our "psychological robustness" ensures we will converge towards "baseline" happiness.


At the same time, however, hedonic adaptation will also make the highs of our life only a temporary endeavor. For instance, couples that experience a boost of happiness (high) when they get married will converge back towards their baseline happiness after a few months or years. The same goes for lottery winners, fresh couples, or people landing their dream job.

Concluding, highs and lows are an integral but temporary part of our lives. Eventually, our happiness will always converge back to "normal".


How to best deal with lows and highs


We learned that hedonic adaptation will make us become used to positive and negative events in our lives. Yet, there are means and tools we can harness to weaken or strengthen the effects of this process in order to make the most out of our highs and cope best with our lows.


Enhance and prolong highs


A great tool to thwart hedonic adaptation is to exercise "savoring" - the act of stepping outside of an experience to review and appreciate it. By actually noticing our highs, appreciating them consciously, and focusing on the moment, we can experience them even longer.


This effect can be further enhanced by talking to other people about our experience or writing down our appreciation and gratitude. Thereby, we should prevent ourselves from thinking about the future and comparing our experience with others. Ideally, we not only write down our experience but take pictures and videos of it so we conserved it for later.


A great thing to do is to celebrate our highs with others. Landed a great job? Let's invite friends, go out and celebrate. Achieved very good results in this year's finals in university? Let's eat out and enjoy our favorite meal.


Better cope with lows


We now know that really no one can get around the fact that life has lows. By solely internalizing this certainty, we can soften the lows. It's not that they will go away but they will feel less unpleasant.


Moreover, we should keep reminding ourselves of the highs we've experienced so far. Having a journal or an album of pictures that captured these moments greatly helps. For instance, I've been journaling every day for more than 2 years now, and it feels amazing to dwell in these past memories.


Ideally, we consciously choose constructive expressions when faced with events that bring us down. Being upset or worse drifting into negative coping behaviors makes bad things even worse. I use the following technique to obtain a more constructive state to better deal with the situation: I ask myself How can I cope with this situation like a good role model? I imagine my siblings and future children, for whom I want to be a good role model, are watching me in this very moment and will imitate how I deal with this event. That helps to prevent me from being too angry, sad, and disappointed.

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