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Health & Balance

Get Back to Happy

6 tips for regaining your happiness after a setback.
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By C.M. Gordon
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Whether you bounce back from setbacks quickly -- or take a tumble and are slow to recover -- you can train yourself to spend less time worried and more time happy.

In day-to-day life, we all cope with challenges that can range from relatively minor stresses, like a bounced check, to longer-term challenges, like job loss, a heartbreaking divorce, or bad news from your doctor.

These setbacks don't have to set you back for long. Here are six ways to handle these events better so you can move from harrowed to happy faster.

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1. Do rely on a supportive network of family and friends.

Jim Stevens, 59, an artist in Wheat Ridge, Colo., discovered what resilience experts say is a sure-fire way to bounce back from adversity: Reach out to others for support.

While serving in the Vietnam war, Stevens was shot in the head by an enemy fighter. Doctors couldn't remove the entire bullet. For the next 20 years, Stevens had severe, recurring migraines.
 
In 1994, a particularly painful migraine triggered a stroke and Stevens lost all but 2% of his vision. He was angry. One day, in a fit of rage, he destroyed much of his unfinished art pieces and notes.
 
In time, he opened up about his feelings to his youngest daughter. "She convinced me I was still needed," Stevens says. "That broke my heart and finally got my attention."
 
David Myers, PhD, a psychology professor at Hope College and author of The Pursuit of Happiness, tells WebMD, "Self-disclosure can be healing. Talking about our troubles can be open-heart therapy." 

2. Don't check out. Do stay committed and engaged.

During their key talk, Stevens' daughter suggested he learn karate as a way to regain self-control. He set a new life mission for himself: to become a martial artist.
 
"I was back on track, looking forward to things again and not behind me," Stevens says.
 
After four years, he earned a black belt. Today, he is the only legally blind man to win the Martial Arts Tournament of Champions men's fighting competition. He says spectators were unaware of his blindness.

Years ago, when he was deeply frustrated with his situation, Stevens could have quit. Instead, he worked to master his anger and took charge of the situation.
 
"Control is the opposite of powerlessness," writes Joan Borysenko, PhD, in her book It's Not the End of the World. "It's not about being a control freak or bending people to your will. It means agency-- that I-can-do-it feeling, which leads to effective action." 

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