Facing a Tough Transition? Create Positive Moments

My Principle of Parting #7 is "Create Positive Moments." This may seem like a small thing—or a huge effort, on top of everything else you have to do—but it's surprisingly important when facing divorce or other painful challenge. 

All transitions bring advantages, which we usually acknowledge. We may bemoan the loss of a job, but then may congratulate ourselves heartily for our boss’s total lack of judgment—once we find a plum position elsewhere. We miss our old friends when we move, but can’t help posting photos on Facebook of what excites us now—the beach, the mountains, the great coffee shop in our new town.

We know setbacks can lead to positive change, but the judgment around divorce can prevent us from em- bracing its upsides. We shouldn’t, we may think, appreciate seeing our own strengths in action. We don’t deserve, we suspect, to notice how much we’re growing. But asking how something “serves” us can shift our focus from what we’ve lost to what we’re gaining.

Noticing advantages also generates more positive emotions, which is no insignificant matter.  Positive emotions can create an “upward spiral of positivity,” says Barbara Fredrickson, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection. Positive emotions help us connect to others by bouncing us out of an inward-focused survival crouch. They build “durable personal resources” such as a more expansive viewpoint, more creative problem-solving skills, and more of a “we” mind-set that facilitates cooperation. 

Fredrickson has long promoted a three-to-one positivity-to-negativity ratio as a general guide for how to think about our emotional balance sheet. Negative emotions are more potent and more gripping; you need about three positive moments to counteract every negative one. “They don’t need to be intense, over-the-moon positive emotions,” says Fredrickson. “They could be catching a glimpse of beauty, appreciating the colors in a sunset. They tend to be so subtle that not everyone notices them.” 

We all have these moments that remind us of who we are.  Creating more moments of joy can reawaken parts of yourself or your heritage that may have faded in marriage.

Divorce can bring back the loneliness of being single, but in many cases, it also brings back the freedom. That freedom may not be light, but it can be exhilarating. “Sometimes we have to reconnect with a life of the possible, not the ideal,” says Los Angeles-based counselor and rabbi Mordecai Finley.

The life of the possible can be pretty great.

Read here about the other Seven Principles of Parting.

For more on weathering transitions, check out Splitopia: Dispatches from Today's Good Divorce and How to Part Well.


Wendy Paris is the author of Splitopia: Dispatches from Today's Good Divorce and How to Part Well (Simon & Schuster/Atria, 2016). Splitopia and her work on divorce have been covered by The New York Times, Real Simple, The Washington Post, The New York Post, The Globe & Mail, Psychology Today, The Houston Chronicle, Salon.com, Parents.com, Family Law QuarterlyPsychCentral.com and radio and TV shows nationwide. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and is an advocate for family law reform. She is divorced, and lives in Santa Monica, California, a few blocks from her former husband, with whom she has a warm co-parenting relationship.