top of page
MM Logo Update Outline.png

Bad Things Happen: It Doesn't Have to Bother You

you have a choice on your attitude
❝You don't have to turn it into something. It doesn't have to upset you.❞ -Marcus Aurelius

It's bright outside, but I forgot my sunglasses. I didn't realize it was going to be so bright. I'm with our dog, Bingo, on our daily after lunch walk. There’s a nice trail around a pond near our house that we frequently go to on our walks. Bingo runs around off-leash, smelling the smells, and I get some exercise and some vitamin D.

After about a minute of not seeing Bingo running around, I turned around to see where she is. Unfortunately, I see her at the edge of the pond rolling around in something. I've been around long enough to know that she's not rolling around in rose petals and lavender. I run over to her to stop her, and all of a sudden it hits me, whatever she found absolutely stinks - and she's covered in it!

This is a bummer because she just had a professional bath at the groomer yesterday. Plus, I just got back from two weeks of jury duty and have loads of work to catch up on; I don't have time to wash her right now.

Imagine yourself in this situation. There are at least a couple of ways that I could have responded to this situation. I could have gotten angry, both with Bingo and with the Universe. I could have played the victim, wondering why this always happens to me. This could have put me in a bad mood. This could have ruined my day.

Instead, I recognized this as a situation that needed my attention. This is only a bad event if I make it a bad event. As we walked back home, I thought about the mildly amusing story that I'll be able to tell people because of this. We got home, I gave her a bath, and I went about my day.

Now, this story about Bingo rolling around in...whatever she was rolling around's not about finances. However, the lesson about choosing how to respond applies to any seemingly negative events that happened to us.

You Have Some Control Over Your Attitude

You have control over your attitude. I know that can be an unpopular opinion, but this is absolutely the case.

Before I say too much, I want to make sure this is perfectly clear. I am not suggesting that you push away your emotions. I am not telling you to ignore any feelings. I do not deny that we have automatic thoughts, most of which are negative. What I am saying, however, is that you can learn to pay attention to these feelings and emotions in such a way that they don't last as long. Feelings and emotions are there for a reason; they give us information. It is not helpful to dwell on any of these negative feelings or emotions, though.

Mindfulness is being completely aware of the present moment in a non-judgmental way. You are experiencing everything about the present moment, whether it is good or bad. You're not issuing a judgment statement; you're merely acknowledging what is. Mindfulness meditation is practice in being more mindful.

If you don't already have a mindfulness-based practice, I highly encourage it. You'll find it at the more mindful you are, the more quickly those negative feelings and emotions go away once they have served their purpose. Once you acknowledge them, you now have the opportunity to respond to the situation in a more rational way instead of reacting emotionally.

Another distinction I have to make is that accepting the events that have happened to you and responding in a productive way does not necessarily mean that you are happy that it happened. It simply means that you accept the fact that it happened and that you no longer have control over whether or not it happens because it already has.

mindfulness helps ease negative emotion

If You Were Prepared and Knew it Was Possible

For many of the bad things that happened to us financially, we knew they were possible. In many cases, you were even prepared for this. Examples might be having money set aside just in case there's an unexpected expense Or series of expenses. You regularly update your resume in case you lose your job. You purchased an insurance policy in case a devastating financial risk happened to you.

To be sure, knowing that something was possible is not the same thing as being okay that it happened. it can still frustrating us and lead us down a path towards ruining our day.

Framing is a helpful tool you can use. The framing effect is effectively the idea that we can think about the same event differently depending on how it is framed to us. We can use this to our advantage if we frame it with a glass-half-full lens rather than a glass-half-empty lens. In other words, when something bad happens to you, you can immediately reframe that as a challenge that needs to be solved. This sounds simple, but it is very effective. Once you practice this, it will become automatic. For example, when I noticed Bingo rolling around and who knows what, once I accepted and acknowledged my frustration, I could reframe that as a challenge. This has happened; what is the best way to fix it?

framing effect matters

If You Weren't Prepared and Were Surprised

I can hear what you are saying. Not everybody has spent the time but front to think about and prepare for things that could go wrong. This is true. In fact, one could argue that this is more common.

Not being prepared for something bad happening is not permission to avoid fixing it. It doesn't matter how you feel about the bad event; it still needs to be solved. Give yourself permission to feel as angry or as sad about it as you want, but recognize that your decision-making abilities aren't going to be as strong if you're in a state of anger or sadness. Your problem doesn't care how you feel.

Once a problem lands in your lap, you can't do anything to prevent it anymore. This is where the reframing trick can help. Reframing these setbacks as puzzles that need to be solved will help you develop a better solution.

problems need to be solved no matter how you feel

There Are Lessons: Learn Them

The second something bad happens to you, you can't prevent it from happening. However, there is valuable information in there. What can you learn that you can apply going forward? If you were caught off guard, why were you caught off guard? It's possible that this is something that could not have prepared for, but more commonly, you will learn and become more resilient in the process.

Another reframe you can use that is very helpful is to think in terms of wins and lessons instead of wins and losses. Most days, bad things won't happen to you. You can count that as a win and be grateful for it. Other days something bad might happen, and you learn from it. You learn how to better prepare for it in the future. You learn how to get back up. You get practice in resiliency. The only loss is leaving a setback without a lesson.

sometimes you win and sometimes you learn

Recognize the Good

Our brains are wired to pay closer attention to the negative. That made sense from an evolutionary perspective, but it no longer makes sense today. There are many good things in your life, even though negative events can happen. Gratitude is a skill that you can continue to improve to help you bounce back after negative events. There’s reason for optimism. You just have to see the bigger picture.

resiliency and gratitude help soothe bad times

Things happen. And because things happen, by definition, bad things happen. Often these are setbacks that we have to overcome. Framing these setbacks as puzzles that need our solutions can help keep negative emotion at bay, which will help us make better decisions both now and going forward.

You only have one life. Live intentionally.

Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences

Ilona Boniwell, Aneta Tunariu: Positive Psychology

The Happiness Lab: Rising to a Challenge

Sam Harris: Waking Up

William Irvine: The Stoic Challenge

William Irvine: A Guide to the Good Life

Daniel Kahneman: Thinking Fast and Slow

Massimo Pigliucci: How to Be a Stoic

Martin Seligman: Authentic Happiness

Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


Join over 1,745 other subscribers.

No Spam - Just new articles sent to you every Thursday.

Popular Articles

bottom of page