Dealing with Disappointment

There has been a lot of ink spilled discussing the results of the recent presidential election here in the States. I’m going to add to it today.

You can relax, though, because I will not be talking about politics directly.

Instead, I want to talk about dealing with loss and disappointment.

President Obama on Disappointment and Loss

After the election, President Obama got on a conference call with alumni of his campaigns. On the call, he addressed the disappointment that his former staffers surely felt at the results of the election.

“Now, that doesn’t mean that we’re not all disappointed by what happened last week. I think it’s fair to say that your President feels your pain on this one. It doesn’t feel good. And in some ways it feels worse because, for a lot of us, I think we didn’t see it coming. Surprising losses are harder than losses you see.”

This quote was flagged by our friend over at Mustard Seed Money, who was specifically interested in the idea that “Surprising losses are harder than losses you see.”

Wisdom of the Ancients

President Obama is not the first to suggest this idea. If we return to our friends the Stoics, we see that Seneca has addressed this same thought in two different works.

In On Tranquility, Seneca says that thinking about negative outcomes “softens the shock of disasters” and that loss and disappointment “bear heavily on thoughtless men whose view is limited to the agreeable.”

He suggests a similar idea in Of Consolation, in which he notes that “When, therefore, misfortune befalls us, we cannot help collapsing all the more completely, because we are struck as it were unawares.”

In order to guard ourselves against being overly harmed by loss and disappointment, then, Seneca suggests that we should set aside time to think through the negative outcomes that could befall us. After all, “a blow which has long been foreseen falls much less heavily upon us.”

Thus, we should think through things that could go wrong. We should consider what it would be like to lose possessions or relationships that we currently have.

This is difficult for most people to do. Seneca recognizes this and suggests an easier approach, based on the idea that “What one hath suffered may befall us all.”

Here, Seneca suggests looking at the negative things that are happening to those around you. This approach is similar to the “there but for the grace of God go I” thought process. The luck that is holding all of these negatives at bay could end at any time, and so we must be prepared to deal with that.

Seneca tells us that “by looking forward to the coming of our sorrows we take the sting out of them when they come.”

Of Consolation

Of course, none of this helps if you have already been blindsided by disappointment.

Seneca writes that grieving and disappointment are natural reactions to suffering a loss. He also suggests that you need to find a way to deal with it, because crying about it won’t fix anything.

“If fate can be overcome by tears, let us bring tears to bear upon it: let every day be passed in mourning, every night be spent in sorrow instead of sleep. . . . But if the dead cannot be brought back to life, however much we may beat our breasts, if destiny remains fixed and immovable forever, not to be changed by any sorrow, however great, and death does not loose his hold of anything that he once has taken away, then let our futile grief be brought to an end.”

There is no benefit to continuing to mourn indefinitely, so we need to find a way to move on. Seneca compares this to piloting a ship through a storm. The fact that you have been blindsided is unfortunate, but you cannot give in to the storm. You need to grab the rudder and steer your way through to the other side.

Find a productive use of your time. Take action. Work on projects. Exercise. Play games. Spend time with friends and family. “Whenever you are engaged in other pursuits your mind will be relieved from its burden.” You need a sense of forward progress in some area or aspect of your life in order to help you move forward from your disappointment.

And if you are trying to get over the disappointment of Secretary Clinton losing the race for President, then you may want to try to get over your disappointment quickly, before you see your Trump-supporting uncle for Thanksgiving. (And then you can go back home and donate to Planned Parenthood in his name.)

7 thoughts on “Dealing with Disappointment”

  1. Thanks for the shout out and taking the time to write this topic 🙂

    Like always such an amazing article. This reminds me of when people would break up in college. They would mope around for a couple of weeks or if it was really bad a semester. But then they would slowly put their life back together and for the most part they all ended marrying people that were better off for them.

    I wonder if those that were voting for Hillary won’t be happier with the 2020 Democratic candidate.

    I guess time will see 🙂
    Mustard Seed Money recently posted…Cheap Entertainment With Board GamesMy Profile

  2. I have always had trouble rebounding from disappointment, I guess because I get in stress loops thinking about everything I could and should have done differently. (in the case of the election, not a lot, so less of a loop. When the disappointment is self inflicted, it gets much worse.)

    But the thing is, I’m stuck in my head. And making progress elsewhere requires me to get out of my head, and it does help. Knowing that there is a way out, though, doesn’t always lead to action. Taking the steps is difficult….so if you’re going through it, sometimes you need to ask with help refocusing. And if you know someone going through it, sometimes you need to help that person refocus.
    Emily @ JohnJaneDoe recently posted…Christmas Tree Throwdown: Real Versus ArtificialMy Profile

    1. This is all fair. The Stoic response would be to work to train yourself to recognize the difference between the things that you can change and the things that you cannot. That’s a lot easier said than done, however. I think that you are right that we need to be better about asking for help from others when we need it and about recognizing when others may need help but be afraid to ask for it.

      Thanks for the comment, Emily!
      Matt recently posted…Happy Giving Tuesday!My Profile

  3. Fantastic post. I love the Seneca quote, Matt! It’s never easy, but what other choice is there but to move forward?!

    I have a family member who has been in perpetual grief since the loss of a spouse. And, I cannot claim to know how that must feel or what she must be going through. But I can imagine how I would feel if I lost my spouse – it would be devastating to say the least. The thing is, she’s stopped living. And it’s hard to watch. It’s never easy, but life does continue and it’s important to continue to live it.
    Amanda @ centsiblyrich recently posted…Avoid Black Friday this year and see what happensMy Profile

    1. That is certainly an unimaginable amount of pain to go through. I can’t fathom how hard it would be to pick yourself up after something like that, but you’re right that there isn’t much of a choice.

      I think of Joe Biden when I hear a story like that. He lost his wife and 1-year old daughter in a car crash after being elected to the Senate but before taking office. He spent his early time in office going through the motions while feeling completely grief-stricken. Then, eventually, he picked himself up and completely rededicated himself to public service and became one of the most powerful people in the country.

      Tragedy is horrible, but it happens. We can either let it hold us down indefinitely or use it to fuel us and make us better.

      Thanks for the comment, Amanda.
      Matt recently posted…Happy Giving Tuesday!My Profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge