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4 Ways of Thinking Differently about Disappointments

How to turn frustration and anger into happiness and optimism.

Key points

  • Accepting things we cannot change can help cope with disappointing events.
  • When someone lets you down it can be very helpful to give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • In the long-run, most disappointing events are not very important.
Ground Picture/Shutterstock
Source: Ground Picture/Shutterstock

Many of the teenagers who seek counseling at my practice react strongly to disappointment. Some of them become despondent or angry, while others turn to unhealthy coping methods including changing their eating patterns, isolating themselves, or using mind altering substances.

I explain that while it is helpful for teens to learn how to regulate their emotional responses, including through the use of hypnosis, an additional approach is to learn how to think differently so that they don’t react as strongly to begin with.

This blog reviews 4 ways in which one can think about life experiences that ease coping with disappointment.

Have Few Expectations

The Stoic philosophy of accepting things we cannot change and maintaining emotional indifference to external circumstances helps us cope better with events that would otherwise trigger disappointment.

For instance, if your friend did not keep a promise rather than becoming upset at the friend, the event can be viewed through the lens: “I can remain calm as I can accept that sometimes friends do not come through.”

Another example is if your team lost a championship game, in which case a calm response might be, “I accept that losing often is part of a game.”

Having few expectations allows us to think about and appreciate what we can do in the moment rather than spending time and emotional energy through worrying about whether a particular goal was achieved.

Give Benefit of the Doubt

When someone else appears to let you down, to better accept what occurs, it can be very helpful to give them the benefit of the doubt.

For instance, “Perhaps my friend was unable to keep their promise because they were not feeling well.”

Or, “Maybe my teammates were unable to focus as well on the game because they had problems at home that distracted them.”

Giving the benefit of the doubt allows you to move on rather than spinning your wheels as you come up with various scenarios (which may not even be real!) regarding why you might have been slighted.

Keep Things in Perspective

It is worthwhile to recognize that in the long-run, most disappointing events are not very important. One way to gain this perspective is to ask, “Will I care about this situation a month from now? A year from now?”

Another way to keep perspective could be, “During the next month I will have other interactions with my friend. I hope we will be able to do fun stuff together.”

Or, to quote long-suffering fans of various sports teams, “There’s always next year.”

I have seen many teens light up and become happier when it dawns on them that an event that consumed their thoughts and feelings was of little importance, or could be viewed with equanimity from a long-term perspective.

Ask What’s Next?

Inventor Alexander Graham Bell said, “When one door closes another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

We can redirect our attention from a disappointing event by looking for the open door and finding out what’s next.

“My friend let me down, but I have another friend who might be able to help me.”

“Now that football season is over, I can look forward to basketball season.”

People who look for the open door routinely discover that redirecting themselves sometimes leads to better outcomes than they could have imagined. Thus, they learn to appreciate the process of turning away from a closed door and finding a new path.


By learning how to think differently about disappointing events, we can avoid becoming frustrated, angry, or depressed, and instead help ourselves feel happier, more optimistic, and more ready to move forward in a constructive way.

If you would like to incorporate some of the ideas in this blog into your thinking pattern, work on doing so one at a time. Once you work on consciously incorporating a new way of thinking for a few weeks, your subconscious mind can take over, and such thinking can then seem to arise into your conscious mind automatically.

More from Ran D. Anbar M.D.
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