Moving Past Disappointment

Posted on December 30, 2020


Inigo: I must know.

Westley: Get used to disappointment. 

Igor: Could be worse.  It could be raining. 

I wish there were some magic about the changing of the year, some reset button that gets pushed to return things to a previous normal. 

The screen saver on our Firestick scrolls through pictures from two vacations from 2019.  The first is Kauai in January with our children and son-in-law.  The second is a very snowy Thanksgiving in Big Bear that included my sister’s and my niece’s families.  It’s funny how that already seems like a different world.  It’s funny how soon nostalgia sets in. 

I took the week before Christmas off from work.  My wife and I got COVID tests (as did our daughters).  We cancelled everything for the week and quarantined at home.  This wasn’t because we thought we had been exposed, but because we were hoping to be with our children on Christmas.  As it turned out, while waiting in line for her COVID test, one daughter was behind someone who reported having symptoms (and the woman’s boyfriend who was with her was not wearing a mask).  Consequently, she wasn’t comfortable being around us in case she had been exposed.  Our other daughter had a roommate who was sick.  No COVID, but in the interest of safety, we cancelled getting together for Christmas. 

On an intellectual level, we know that most of the stuff that happens to us is not about us.  Having said that, it is difficult for many of us to escape the feeling that 2020 keeps flipping us the bird (or as my brother-in-law[1] used to call it, half a peace sign). 

I realize that Christmas celebrates one of the two most joyous events in human history (the other being the resurrection), but I was still feeling sad on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.  I had so much been looking forward to a little taste of normalcy.  Frankly, Zoom gatherings just don’t meet the same need.  I was disappointed. 

By the afternoon, I had largely been able to shake off my malaise and still find joy in the day with my wife.  I’ve been doing okay since.

How do we keep moving on from disappointments?  I don’t have a sure-fire formula.  Sorry about that.  What do I know that applies here? 

Marriage and family therapy has really only been around for about 50 years.  Before that everything was about the individual intrapsychic experience.  Marriage and family therapy hypothesized that marriages and families were systems.  Consequently, system theory could be applied.  A number of different theoretical approaches were developed about how to do that.  All had merit to them.  All were also somewhat like Saxe’s 6 blind men and the elephant.  We stand on the shoulders of giants, but they each have only part of the picture.  But I digress.

One of the techniques used in Solution Focused Therapy was simply to try out different solutions and see what helped.  What things are happening in your life that you want to continue to happen or to happen more?  If you were to do something different the next time the problem presents itself, what would it be?  I offer this thought for two reasons.  The first is that sometimes you just have to try different things to see what helps.  The second is that anything I offer up is just something to experiment with. 

Normalize.  When you go into your therapist and tell them your troubles and the therapists says, “It makes sense that you would be distressed about that,” we call that normalizing.  The fact that you are in distress is not reflective of some flaw of yours but is a normal human reaction.  Disappointments are hard.  We feel them.  It is okay to throw yourself a pity-party now and again, just don’t set up residence there. 

Gratitude list.  When I was a child, my mother would say how much she hated the adage, “I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I met the man who had no feet.”  I agree with her.  It’s not that helpful.  Having said that, let’s face it.  If you are reading this, you probably live better than more than 97%[2] of the humans throughout history.  The problem is that so does everyone else you know so that becomes the baseline.  A few years ago, we took a Rhine River cruise.  We toured enough castles that they started to all blend together.  When you see how even kings were living relatively late in human history, you realize that anyone who has a place to call home lives better than kings lived for most of our history.  Focusing on the things you for which you are grateful can be helpful[3]

Connection.  Human beings need connection with others of our own kind.  Isolation quite literally is deadly to us.  In the midst of this, we still need to find ways to keep ourselves emotionally and socially connected even if we can’t be physically connected.  This is still a big loss for those of us for whom our love language is physical touch and closeness, but it is what it is.  We have to find other ways to get those needs met. 

Hope/Something to look forward to.  We don’t know when this pandemic will end.  Who would have thought that we would finish the year still dealing with this thing?  As the great philosopher, Tom Petty, sang, “The waiting is the hardest part.”  We still need to find things to which we can look forward. 

Finding joy in the daily.  Even in good times this is a biggie.  There needs to be joy in the daily tasks of living.  Sometimes we need to go looking for it.  This is probably one of those times. 

Bless others.  We can still find ways to be a blessing to others even if we can’t be together as we normally are.  I don’t know what that might look like for you.  But it can give one a sense of purpose. 

If I wrote this on a different day, it might be a different list.  But that’s what I have today.  I don’t expect anything is going to be substantially different on Friday from how it is on Thursday, but I still wish you a Happy New Year.  As the great philosopher, Howard Jones, sang, “Things can only get better.  Woe-woe-woe-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh.” 

[1] I have 9 brother’s in law, 7 of whom are still living, so most of you still have plausible deniability. 

[2] I made that number up, but I stand by it. 

[3] Isn’t it awesome to think I have a freezer with ice cream in it? 

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