“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  

– Viktor Frankl


Throughout life, people transcend their adversities in different ways; some people can go through a lot and be able to rise above and live well, and some people simply succumb to their circumstances. This manifestation seems to boil down to something beyond circumstance and external situations. As we all know, there are so many people who have gone through terrible situations and yet manage to be upbeat, strong and push forward in their lives, while others sink into perpetual disappointment and despair. It seems to be a natural tendency to go one way or the other. 

What makes some become better and some bitter?

There is much proven research of just how much we can do to give ourselves that meaningful and joyful life we all naturally want, or rather, that happiness we are all after. Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychologist and researcher in the field of happiness and wellbeing, came up with a pie chart representation showing the three determinants of happiness. Lo and behold, circumstance is the smallest piece of the pie, at only a 10% contributor to our happiness. 

50% of our happiness is dependent on our genes, and here’s the most powerful and influential piece of the pie: our behavior, our intentional activities, make up 40%.  This can really be the make-or-break part. This means we have a lot in our power that we can do to increase our life satisfaction, regardless of our circumstances, negative as they may be.  So yes, we can rise above our difficult situations and we can become better. 

First and foremost, we must recognize and acknowledge that we are not victims, but rather active players and creators of our playing field. Then we must intentionally bring into our lives ways of reconstructing our views:


As Nietzsche says, “He who has why to live can bear almost any how.” We always need a reason to go on, especially when the road is slippery under our feet. It is all too easy to fall and succumb. But recognizing a purpose larger than the immediate difficult situation can keep us coping along the path.  Holding onto that bigger picture and greater good can be a source of comfort.

Benefit Finder:

It seems to be human nature to have a slant toward the negative. It’s very easy to spot the faults and issues in things. The good news is even if we weren’t born a glass-half-full type of person, we can train ourselves to see more of the positive. You see, it’s all about what we focus on. What do you hone in on, the rose or the thorn? When we take in the beauty of the rose, we start to notice other beauty around us.  More comes into our purview.

Positive psychology professor, Tal Ben-Shahar states: “When you appreciate the good, the good appreciates.” 

Permission to be human:

Allowing ourselves to feel the gamut of emotions, those yucky, most unpleasant ones which sometimes drive us to suppress them by numbing means, as well as the good ones. Restricting the flow of painful feelings impedes the flow of the positive ones, for human emotions all flow through the same pipeline. We humans are blessed with a rich emotional make-up. We need to give ourselves the permission to feel. This helps create a rich, authentic life. Once we are aware of our feelings, we can then choose how we act and respond.  

Choose to choose 

At every moment we have a choice. Are we even aware of this? We can choose to take things for granted or appreciate the good; we can choose to view failure as a catastrophe or as a learning opportunity. We can choose to succumb or make the best of what happens. We can walk in the street with our head down in our phones or look up and smile at people, which sends positivity in and out. 

 “Things don’t necessarily happen for the best, but some people are able to make the best of things that happen.”– Tal Ben-Shahar

 When the rough times come or the bad things happen, are we able to find or make some good? Can we find the silver lining? Can we look to make lemonade out of lemons? 

 When adversity hits, we can become better. We can rise above. We can even grow beyond and do things we never thought we could. We now know that it’s more in our power than we may like to believe. It may sometimes feel easier to be a victim, but it’s certainly not a role that leads to a fulfilling, satisfying and meaningful life. 

Our choices, both concrete and attitudinal, make up this 40% of the pie, and this can make us better above and beyond the other half of the pie.


Harriet Cabelly LCSW is a social worker and life coach with a certificate in Positive Psychology Practice/business. She counsels people in creating a life filled with meaning and joy despite and beyond personal challenges, adversities, and losses. Harriet facilitates many group venues on living well, transitioning, grief and loss. Follow her blog at www.rebuildlifenow.com