Thoughts on Staying Positive When Things Look Bad

We are living in an interesting time. Staying positive during times like these, times of uncertainty, can be difficult. 

The media pounds us with sensational headlines that create a sense of fear in many of us. It’s like driving by what looks to be a terrible accident. We know we shouldn’t look, but we can’t help ourselves. We know we shouldn’t watch CNN, Fox, or MSNBC, but we can’t help ourselves from tuning in to get the latest “news.”

Health officials and the government advise us to engage in social separation or social distancing. Huh? What the heck is that? Was this term created for this particular crisis? Was it a “thing” before this? It's probably been around for decades. I'm not that plugged into it,  I guess. 

If you’re an introvert, social separation is nothing new to you. Right about now, many of you may be saying, “Welcome to my world.” But to the extroverts among us, or the extroverted introvert (yup, that’s a thing), social separation might feel like cruel and unusual punishment.

Since we find ourselves in these crazy times, I thought I’d share my thoughts on staying positive when things look bad. If you’re looking for some magic words of wisdom, I’m sorry. Most of my thoughts are common sense. However, we can do things to keep the news and the uncertainty of the day from overwhelming us. 

Let’s dive in.

Staying Positive in Uncertain Times

Conspiracy Theories Abound

The conspiracy theorists are having an absolute field day with Covid-19. Some of what I’ve heard and read:

The virus is a biological weapon created by China, Russia, Iran, or some other country that hates us. It’s a population control tactic. It’s a made-up virus. The new 5G network causes it as a way to instill fear and control our minds.

Heck, who knows. Some of this might be true. But here’s the thing. If any of these things are true, there is virtually nothing we can do about it. I see Facebook and Twitter posts that put forward many versions of the explanation for Covid-19. 

If you believe it’s a man-made virus used for sinister purposes, you want to tell the world the “truth” you know. If you don’t think it’s real, you’ll encourage everyone to go about their daily lives and ignore the government’s advice to self-isolate. 

The Problem

If this is a man-made sinister population control tactic and there is no Covid-19, go for it. Here’s the problem. If there is a Covid-19 virus that is spreading and killing people, and we follow the advice to ignore the warning, we are making the problem exponentially worse than it needs to be. 

And I’d prefer those who are advising doing so would knock it off. If you’re wrong and people listen to you, we are in trouble. If you’re right, and that gets validated with proof, then you can have a field day telling all of us you told us so. And won’t that be fun!

I saw a thread on Facebook from someone I know to be highly intelligent and an analytical thinker saying some things that were really off the wall. The post is from a guy who is a Ph.D. I won’t’ get into the details. Suffice it to say that those who commented on his thoughts were strong in their response. Name-calling and degrading someone as a person is no way to get someone to agree with your point of view. 

It seems that’s what Facebook and Twitter have become. It’s a place where people feel comfortable ranting without consequence. From my perspective, it makes both sides spewing out the vitriol look like total asses.

But I digress. Well, maybe not.

Staying Positive – Words Matter

The Facebook exchange I described reminded me that words matter. We seem to have lost the ability to disagree with each other without being disagreeable. I know some of the people in this conversation. They are blogger friends of mine. 

I realize the political climate in our country is about as cynical as can be. Extremes on both sides are shouting at each other. Rather than having a healthy debate over issues, their goal seems to be to destroy the person's character with whom they disagree. I realize that’s not a news flash to most people. But it seems to be at a fever pitch right now.

We should allow the current political environment to spill into our relationships. It’s OK to disagree with others. Let’s be respectful and not stoop to the level of trying to degrade them as people.

Staying Positive – Back to the Basics

I need reminding during times like these that things are rarely as bad as they seem. Maybe you do too. With that in mind, here are four things that help me stay positive during difficult (bad or uncertain) times.

1. Listen

If I’ve learned anything in my life about personal relationships, it’s this. People’s favorite topic is themselves. That is more true during difficult times than during good times. People are hurting. People are concerned about losing their jobs, taking a pay cut, and in some cases, are living in fear of contracting the coronavirus. 

I don’t know about you, but everyone around me wants to talk about what’s going on right now. It reminds me of 911. But it’s a slow-developing 911. We live near Dulles Airport outside of Washington, DC. I remember after 911 when airports got shut down. It was eerily quiet, with no air traffic. 

Right now, that same eerie feeling is present. We have our house listed for sale. We’re doing it ourselves. We had an open house on Sunday. Great timing, huh? We had everyone use hand sanitizer when they entered. Cathy went around, wiping down everything they might have touched while here. It was eerie. 

We had an offer with an escalation clause (a seller’s dream). They backed out. They were fearful of the virus, job loss, and the economy. 

Give people the space to tell you what they’re feeling, as crazy as it might be. And believe me, I’m hearing some crazy things right now. 

James 1: 19-20

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

That’s good advice, whether you are a Christian or not. 

2. Be Thankful

In times like these, it’s important not to lose sight of the numerous things we should be thankful for. Psychologists tell us that being grateful will improve our lives. I wrote about this in a previous post on having an attitude of gratitude. Here’s what I said:

“Psychologists tell us that having a thankful attitude will improve our lives. In fact, there is a field of psychology called positive psychology. What does that mean? Positive psychology is the study of happiness.

In an article written for Psychology Today,  Kate F. Hays, Ph.D., cites Dr. Sonja Lyobomirsky.

In her book,  The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Dr. Lyobomirsky offers eight ways that gratitude can boost happiness:

  • Grateful thinking promotes the appreciation of positive life experiences
  • Expressing gratitude bolsters self-worth and self-esteem
  • Gratitude helps people cope with stress and trauma (the one we’re focused on today)
  • Expressing gratitude encourages moral behavior
  • Gratitude helps build social bonds
  • Expressing gratitude helps us not make negative comparisons with others
  • Practicing gratitude is incompatible with negative emotion; it diminishes emotions like anger, bitterness, or greed
  • Practicing gratitude helps us remain aware of the present moment and not take things for granted

That’s a pretty compelling list!”

Staying positive often comes out of being grateful. Give it a try.

3. Be an Encourager

Think about this for a minute. Do you do better when someone encourages you or when someone condescends to you? Of course, you go for encouragement. Yet today, it seems acceptable, maybe even fashionable, to put others down. In doing so, we somehow think that makes us more powerful. 

We see other people every day who we know are struggling. Maybe they have wayward children. Perhaps they’re in the midst of a problematic relationship. Nowadays, many people get laid off or lose jobs. Stand with them in their troubles. That doesn’t mean trying to fix them or their problems. Encouragement comes from just being present with them in their struggles. When we help someone, it makes them and us feel better. 

Thinking about and helping others keeps me from focusing so much on my junk. And man, do I have a lot of junk! When I learn about other’s battles, I realize the junk I have pales compared to what others have in their lives. It brings humility and gratitude. 

It’s a win-win proposition and an excellent habit to have.

Help Others

Jim Irsay is the owner of the Indianapolis Colts football team. He’s one who’s been actively involved in the Indianapolis community since he took over ownership of the team.

A few days ago, he reached out to a sports writer at the local newspaper, the Indianapolis Star. 

Mr. Irsay is struck by what the shutdown of schools and businesses is doing to people. He understands food insecurity; that many kids who aren’t in schools don’t have meals. It’s a huge, sad problem in American. He wanted to do something about it.

So he asked Greg Doyle, the sportswriter, for his help. Gleaners’ Food Back in Indianapolis is the primary distributor of food to the needy in the metro area. He asked Doyle to publish an article challenging people to donate to Gleaners. He said if the public raised $200,000, he would match that with $1 million of his own money. 

Donations started almost immediately. Within a couple of days, the $200,000 was in hand. Gleaner's Food Bank has a $1.2 million check on the way due to one man's desire to help those in need and asking others to join him.

We don’t have to give $1 million to help someone. But it’s a great example of what reaching out to help someone can do. Every small thing we can do helps others and ourselves. 

4. Exercise

If you don't have a regular exercise routine, now would be a great time to start. Our gym closed this week until further notice. We have a routine of yoga 2 – 3 times a week. I won't lie to you. It stinks not being able to do that. But I applaud Lifetime Athletic for taking this step. We have found ways to adjust.

We can do yoga at home. There are plenty of YouTube videos to follow if we want an instructed class. We've been at it long enough where we can do it on our own. We don't have the hot room or the camaraderie of the people around us. But those aren't necessary to get the benefits.

We have free weights and a nice exercise bike (no, it's not a Peleton!) to get our aerobics. But even if we had none of these things, we could go for long walks every day. We can do pushups, sit-ups, and a variety of other exercises to get what we need.

Exercise is one of the best stress relievers out there. Get outside and enjoy the nice weather with a long walk each day. You'll be surprised how much better you'll feel.

Final Thoughts

Hey, I told you there wasn’t anything earth-shattering or groundbreaking about my thoughts. These three simple things can make a difference in our lives. They will make a difference in the lives of others as well.

You can implement any of these three things without social closeness. Use your phones and laptops. Make calls, send texts, or emails. I find phone calls much more effective in times like these. My best friend and I talk nearly every day. We have serious conversations yet find humor amid uncertainty too. But the comic relief we offer each other is a comfort to both of us. It’s one of the things for which I’m grateful. 

So please. Take a step back—slow down things. Hug your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, or dog or cat. Take the advice of the old Stephen Stills song Love the One You’re With (I’m showing my age).

Things are difficult right now. We’ve been through much worse and survived. We will get through this too. We may even be the better for it when it’s all said and done. 

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As a financial advisor for almost 30 years, Fred shares his expertise on personal finance, investing, and other relevant topics on Your Money Geek and many other financial media. He has been quoted or featured in Money Magazine, MarketWatch, The Good Men Project, Thrive Global, and many other publications.