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The Great Benefits of the Worst Disappointment in Your Life

2011 April 23
tags: Development, Disappointment, Metacognition, Productivity, Self-Care, Series, Setbacks
by Andrew   

This is Part 1 of a multi-part series on moving forward from a potentially disastrous disappointment.

Part 2: Choosing Your Response to the Worst Disappointment in Your Life


Part 3: Examining Your Expectations After The Worst Disappointment In Your LIfe


When was the last time things went really bad, compared to your desires? I mean really bad.  Chances are, you don’t have to think too hard to remember when that was…where you were…or myriad other details normally too small to notice.

It may have been a break-up of a promising romantic relationship, the end (or a significant disturbance) of a long-term friendship, very bad news related to your health or that of a loved one, or maybe extremely stressful events related to your job. Regardless, some set of circumstances really, really didn’t meet your expectations.

The (potentially) bad news

Most people react negatively to disappointment, and very negatively to major disappointment; that’s why we have the sense of disappointment:  so we learn to avoid the circumstances that created it whenever possible.  Disappointment is like pain; it’s a warning signal that something is amiss.  It’s entirely normal to react negatively to disappointment.  Common reactions include mild irritability, very short-term withdrawal from social relationships, and “blue” feelings or feeling low and de-energized.

Some people react quite negatively to disappointment, even mild disappointment, and act out in self-destructive ways:  overindulgence in alcohol, food, high-sugar drinks and snacks, sleep, sex, or risky behaviors that result in temporary feelings of excitement.  All of these are attempts to combat the negative feelings stemming from disappointment, but none of them address the cause of the feelings, nor do they remedy them.

Left unchecked, these behaviors (alone or in combination with repeat disappointments) can lead to depression.  Repeat disappointments without these negative behaviors can also lead to depression.  Symptoms of depression should be evaluated by a doctor.


The good news

Properly addressed, disappointment is good for you.  And, it includes a promising hidden message:  you’re still alive.  And, if you’re still alive, you can recover from the negative experience and move forward. And, unlike overindulgence in negative behaviors, some indulgences can be positive, uplifting, and life-affirming.  The key is to limit the indulgence to a healthy duration and amount, regardless of the type of indulgence.  Some forms of healthy, indulgent self-care include:

  • Prayer and meditation (especially if you think you don’t have time for it)
  • Light exercise in a natural environment (walking, hiking, swimming, kayaking)
  • Therapeutic massage
  • Chocolate
  • Time with friends and family

Charity Fowler at Pursuing Bliss has a great article on How to Feel Better on Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days.

There are several benefits associated with disappointment, even major disappointment; these benefits – in one way or another – all bear on how you establish and evaluate your expectations.  Some are related to your immediate environment, and others relate more directly to metacognition:  how you think about your thinking.


The benefits of disappointment

Benefits?  BENEFITS?!  Yes, there are definitely benefits to disappointment.  Among the more useful are:

  • A warning that your expectations weren’t met
  • A warning that your needs may not have been met
  • A potential warning that others are not honoring their commitments (if you expected them to)
  • Affirmation that you have a vested interest in the subject that led to your disappointment
  • Motivation to evaluate your present circumstances or environment for compatibility with your personal goals and priorities
  • Incentive to evaluate your beliefs and expectations, which you may have been taking for granted or neglecting

Without the warnings and motivations that are the positive outcomes of disappointment, we would drift through life from one experience to the next, working and playing, but never growing.  Disappointments are as much an opportunity for growth and self-reflection as are great successes, but with a much higher potential gain.

If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.   ~Henry David Thoreau


Celes Chua at Personal Excellence has an excellent series on dealing with disappointment.


Take care, and enjoy life,




2 Responses Post a comment
  1. December 28, 2011

    Andrew… wow… you really hit a home run on this one! I am just now catching up to some of your posts, and I am in awe of this one.

    I am particularly fond of the last portion of your post ("The good news" and "The benefits of disappointment."

    We can find ourselves focused on "what has happened" instead of what we STILL have — or — what we can STILL DO.

    Moreover, as you adroitly point out, the "benefits of disappointment" actually help us to regain our focus, fix our posture, and (if necessary), realign our priorities.

    Absolutely lovely blog post…

    • Andrew permalink
      December 28, 2011

      Many thanks, John! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I appreciate your comments!


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