Learning to be Happy Again After a Loss

By: Rochelle Perper, Ph.D. | August 12, 2022

Coping with the loss of someone you love is one of life’s biggest challenges. In fact, few things compare to the devastation and pain that follow the death of a loved one. Life doesn’t feel the same anymore. You feel empty, crushed, and lonely. You may doubt your ability to survive, let alone be happy, and you may even question whether you have the energy or desire to try.

In time, and with a great deal of effort and fortitude, you can ease your sorrow, start to look to the future, and eventually find a way to keep living.

The Only Way You Can Fail is by Failing to Try

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” -Dan Millman

You want others to be happy, and yet you don’t allow yourself the same experience. Giving yourself permission to try to be happy, to accept that it is okay to have this experience even though your loved one isn’t here, is a triumph over permanence. Moving past the guilt and enjoying yourself again is a form of self-compassion. Dr. Kristen Neff, author of The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook says that self-compassion is “Being kind to yourself when you suffer.” In moments of acute pain, self-compassion encourages you to ask yourself: “What do I need right now?”

Seeking Joy After Facing Adversity is Taking Back What Was Stolen from You

“Joy is the ultimate act of defiance.” -Bono

When we think of joy, we often focus on the big moments like graduating from school, having a child, getting a job, and reuniting with family. But happiness stands as the culmination of positive experiences, not the intensity of a single event. When you re-engage in everyday activities and interactions and start to enjoy the little things, you take control by actively choosing to live your life.

Rather than waiting until you’re happy to enjoy the small things, do the small things that make you happy.

Over Time, You Will Experience a Subtle but Profound Shift

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”-Carl Jung

The concept of adapting to your loss, let alone finding joy again, may sound far-fetched. As you work through your grief, you will not be the same as you were before your loss. And you won’t be the same as you are now. Changes will occur with or without your participation. It may be helpful to know that through your grief you will experience the following:

    • Enhanced self-awareness
    • Sense of strength
    • Openness to new possibilities
    • Increased level of compassion
    • Improved relationships with others

You Can Live Again; Not by Escaping Your Loss, But by Learning to Live Inside of It

“What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

You might unconsciously fear that if you begin to move away from your grief, you will lose what contact you have with the person you miss so much. Rather, think of it as letting go of children when they are ready to move off on their own. If you loosen your grip, the chances of them returning are much greater, and in a more meaningful way. Perhaps relinquishing your most intense grief makes a space in which a new relationship with your loved one can exist. After all, it’s the person you want, not the grief.

Being happy does not mean that you don’t feel pain, grief, or sadness. Sorrow and contentment, grief and beauty, longing and surrender coexist in the realm of sameness. We call this the unity of opposites, and it liberates us from a myopic, dualistic view of our emotions as either/or. We are neither content nor despairing. We are both/and.

Early grief makes it hard if not impossible to ever imagine happiness again, and yet, slowly, moments of joy happen in seconds, minutes, and hours later, resulting even in days of contentment. Gradually, you regain the capacity to feel joyful, and you feel that in the same space as grieving. Even in moments of joy or lightness, you still know grief – because there exists an omnipresence of longing for our loved one, for their voice, for their hug, for their touch, for their simple presence. Beauty and pain coexist.

Helping You Triumph Over Grief

Grieving is a highly individual experience. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. The process takes time and healing happens gradually. There is no one “normal” timeline for grieving; it can’t be forced or hurried. Do things when the time is right for you. Working with a professional San Diego Psychologist will help you navigate through your unique grieving process and learn tools and strategies to help you find joy in your life again. Contact us to schedule an appointment with a member of our team who specializes in Grief and Loss. At Therapy Changes, you will feel supported, safe, and accepted in your therapy experience.



Photo by Zack Minor on Unsplash

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