How To Keep Going When Life Is Hard

Why is life so hard?

Or why does it so often seem as though, no matter what we do or how much we accomplish, bad things keep happening to us and to the people we love?

When life is hard, what do you tell yourself? Do any of these phrases sound familiar?

  • “If so-and-so had/hadn’t done X, this wouldn’t have happened!”
  • “Oh, well. Such is life (and then you die).”
  • “I only expect bad things, anyway, so I won’t be disappointed.”
  • “What did I do wrong?” or “Can I fix this?”
  • “What can I learn from this?”

Whatever you think and do as a habit when life is hard, it affects your ability to grow, to be happy, and to become the person you want to be.

And even when every fiber of your being is telling you, “Life is too hard,” there are things you can do to get back on your feet and keep going. The alternative is quitting.

Is Life Hard for Everyone?

When you're stuck in your own difficult life, it appears everyone has it better than you.

Others seem more pulled together, face fewer challenges, and have it easier in general.

But it's the rare person who escapes hardships, struggles, and adversity during their lifetimes.

We all experience ups and downs and periods of pain, even if we don't reveal them on social media or even to friends.

You aren't alone in finding life hard. Pain and adversity are universal.

Even if you've faced more difficulties than the people you know, the odds are that if you're reading this on your phone or computer, you're doing better than most people in the world.

9 Reasons Why Life is Hard and How to Keep Going

We know you want to live a meaningful and impactful life with as few challenges as possible. And life is too precious to spend it so focused on the bad that you miss the good.

Read on to learn why life can be so hard and what you can do about it.

1. We are emotional beings.

We tend to react to other people’s actions and words as though they intended to hurt or offend us.

man sitting on bench why is life so hard

We assign our own meanings to their words and actions when we should instead ask for clarification and give the other the benefit of the doubt.

The one speaking or acting in a way that makes us feel triggered doesn’t see those words and actions through the same lens, and what they say or do may have nothing at all to do with us.

If we do successfully determine that their words and actions are meant as a personal attack, though, it doesn’t obligate us to react, much less retaliate.

What someone else does or says is on them; how you react to it is on you.

Do yourself a favor and give yourself the time and space to breathe and consider how you’ll want to remember that moment when it becomes part of your past. (Caveat: this is much easier said than done; practicing mindfulness makes it easier.)

Stop assigning your own meaning to other people’s words and actions; don’t assume they’re getting personal when all they’re really doing is asserting their own beliefs to fight back against what they perceive as an attack on them.

In other words, what they say and do is more about them than about you. Practice responding with compassion (rather than anger) to make life easier for both of you.

Finally, how we react to and remember an experience has everything to do with how we label it. Something you remember as a “bad experience” will naturally evoke negative emotions, whereas something you remember as a “learning experience” will not.

So, be careful of the labels you use. And focus on feeling grateful for anything good you can find in an otherwise painful experience.

In other words, use your emotional nature to help you rebound more quickly from a wound or disappointment by focusing on any good that came of that experience (greater personal strength, an important lesson, the ability to help others, etc.) and by feeling grateful for it.

2. We let our happiness depend on others.

As much as it does affect us when the people close to us are happy or unhappy, our own happiness shouldn’t depend on what someone else feels about us and what they do for us.

Do any of these phrases sound familiar?

  • “You make me so happy!”
  • “You complete me.”
  • “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine….”

If your happiness depends on another person, you create problems for both of you. You deserve to find happiness that doesn’t depend on how another person feels about you, and the other person shouldn't be expected to make sure you’re happy all the time.

Related: 27 Of The Best Ways To Find True Happiness

On the flipside, if someone tells you, “I love you because you make me so happy / you complete me,” you should probably run. If their happiness depends on you and what you do for them, then everything you do is only valuable if it contributes to their happiness or fulfillment. Whether it makes you happy or not will always be less important.

And when you stop making them happy – or when you’re not doing enough to keep them happy – you’re accused of being selfish or neglectful.

It goes downhill from there, and you all deserve better.

Your happiness is your choice; let those in your inner circle know this, and you’ll all be free to experience, grow, and contribute as you were born to.

3. We give up too easily.

Some call it “shiny, new object syndrome,” and while folks with ADHD might be more susceptible to it, few are immune to the appeal of novelty combined with promises of more immediate results with less work.

When you underestimate how much work you’ll have to put into something in order to make it work for you, you’re likely to feel a growing sense of panic when you think you’ve done enough and should see some measurable results. You start to think, “Maybe this isn’t going to work for me after all,” and then “Maybe this isn’t the best use of my time.”

And when you run across something new that practically shouts, “Get the results you want more quickly and with less work,” you might be susceptible to this false promise.

Related: The Ultimate List Of Emotions

Yes, you want quicker results, and you want them with as little effort as possible. It’s completely normal to want to focus on the things that get you the best results without crowding your other responsibilities.

But just because something takes longer than you expect doesn’t mean it’s not an effective way to get the results you want or that you should quit and look for something easier.

If the litmus test for the value of an undertaking was its ease, no one would be parents — or teachers, government leaders, doctors, etc. Most serious endeavors require more effort than we think.

Fortunately for us, we tend to put more effort into things that are tied to our passion or life’s purpose – whether that’s parenting, teaching, finding the best treatments for our patients, or governing a community.

Conversely, if we’re not sure an undertaking will lead to the experiences, growth, and contributions we see as necessary to our mission (or if we don’t know what that mission is), it’s much easier to justify quitting when we don’t see results as soon as we’d like.

One of the best ways to ensure your own tenacity is to figure out what you feel passionate about and pursue it as a career or avocation.

woman sad laying head on desk why is life so hard

4. We care too much about what other people think of us.

Aside from the feelings of those closest to us, we tend to care too much about what others think about us or about what we’ve said or done (or neglected to say and do).

We’re so afraid of being judged and criticized, we hesitate or hold ourselves back when our purpose would be better served by moving forward.

And when the criticism comes, we may spend so much time ruminating on those comments that we take our eyes off the bigger picture.

We give others way too much power over our moods, our attitude, our self-confidence, and our decision-making — even when we don’t particularly trust their judgment.

Related: 99 Ways To Enjoy A Ridiculously Happy Life

There’s nothing wrong with asking someone what they think of something you’re looking into, and if they have more experience with that something that you do, no one can blame you for taking their words to heart.

But ultimately, you have to make the decision yourself, and it helps to remember that no matter what others may think of your decision, you’re the one who has to live with the consequences.

Those who don’t share your mission are the ones most likely to criticize you, but even those who share it might see it from a different angle and try to communicate their perspective to you.

Listen to what they have to say, but if after taking their views into consideration, you still firmly believe you know how best to move forward, don’t let other people’s opinions hold you back.

5. We let our fears box us in.

Aside from other people’s opinions and criticism, we often let the fear of failure stop us from seizing an opportunity to learn something new, to challenge ourselves, and to act in alignment with our mission.

It seems more likely that things will go wrong, that we’ll faceplant in front of our peers, and that what we now think is a good move will turn out to be a huge mistake.

We fear the worst, forgetting that failure is not the worst thing that can happen to us.

Fear is natural when the potential consequences will affect not only you but also someone you love. But what do you gain by always playing it safe – other than a tendency to hold back when faced with a new challenge?

And if you’re responsible for forming young minds, what do you teach them when you avoid all risks and stick to the path that looks safest?

Playing it safe sends the following messages:

  • Whatever the potential benefits, the potential risks are greater.
  • It’s better to stay safe than to take risks, even if you never learn anything new.
  • If you choose the safer path, fewer bad things will happen to you.

While some situations may justify these messages (i.e., there is a time to “run away and fight another day”), as a rule, pain and suffering come as much to those who play it safe as to those who take risks in order to learn, grow, and contribute.

And those who habitually let fear box them in give up their freedom for what they perceive as security.

So, which of the two seems more likely to result in happiness?

6. We get stuck in our negative thoughts.

At some point, many of us convince ourselves that negative thinking — or what we call “telling it like it is” — is more “real” (or realistic) than optimism or a positive outlook.

It’s not. Steeping yourself in negative thinking only drags you down and makes you more inclined to stay within your “safe” comfort zone rather than to challenge yourself and grow.

It’s too easy to get stuck thinking about past hurts and offenses, justifying them by saying you won’t pretend that what so-and-so did wasn’t harmful or objectively offensive.

As long as you can take comfort in the belief that you’re better than someone else, you can excuse yourself out of growing into the person you were born to be.

It’s also easy to get stuck worrying about the future and about all the things that could go wrong. It’s easier to justify standing still when you convince yourself that doing something that could help you grow carries too great a risk.

The problem with that?

While you’re “standing still” and blocking your growth, you’re actually in a state of decay. You’re dying.

The one who faces a new challenge with an “I can do this” or “I can’t wait to learn from this” attitude is more likely to take a step forward than the one thinking, “This is going to end badly.”

Related: How To Get Out of Your Head

7. We forget to live in the moment.

Our ability to focus on the present moment and fully experience it is a gift that far too few of us learn to appreciate.

While you’re stuck obsessing over the past or the future, you can’t see and appreciate what’s right in front of you.

You might put your relationships on the back burner to deal with one work-related crisis or deadline after another, forgetting that — when your life is over — those relationships will mean more to you than anything you did for your career.

Your mission has to do with the big picture view of your life and legacy, and you can’t fully appreciate it unless you’re living in the present moment, feeling and expressing gratitude for all the good in it.

It’s hard to see the big picture when you still refuse to forgive someone for a past offense. It’s impossible to grow and contribute in alignment with your mission when your eyes are stuck on the past or the future; you have no power over either one.

The present is where you can act — either in alignment with your mission or in ignorance of it. You can only experience, grow, and contribute in the present.

So, why would you want to live anywhere else?

8. We don't acknowledge our own shortcomings.

A lot of self-help advice focuses on what others have done to us. And in many scenarios, that's helpful. People who have been to hell and back benefit from learning to spot red flags and sever toxic relationships. 

But there's another part: self-assessment. And truthfully, it may be the bigger obstacle to climb — because objectively looking at our own behaviors, beliefs, and biases is downright tricky. The human brain is wired to self-soothe, which often involves casting ourselves in the best possible light.

But growth requires digging up our shadow selves, acknowledging our faults, and applying the newfound knowledge to forge a better path. 

So how do you get started? Step one is getting comfortable with the inevitability of fallibility. 

Next, spend some time thinking about your relationship with defensiveness. Is it your default mode when someone says something challenging? Overcoming the urge to get your back up is a must if you want to make genuine progress. 

After you're in the right mindset, start addressing each issue one by one. It gets easier with time, and the change you see in yourself and how others treat you will be the fuel that propels you forward.

9. We live in the traumatic past.

At first, not living in the past and learning to live in the moment may sound like the same things, but there's a slight difference. Not living in the past is a combination of fretting about past choices and future ones. Living in the past is the habit of not allowing yourself to move on from experiences and traumas you suffered.  

Take Emily. At 39, she still regularly thinks about things that happened in her teens and twenties when she was weathering a rough patch of life. She's so fearful of bumping into people who knew her back then that she closed herself up to many opportunities and became a semi-recluse. Plus, she ruminates — day and night — about mistakes she made in the past. Ultimately, her trauma-rooted, self-inflicted solitary confinement keeps her from blossoming.

Emily's story perfectly illustrates the mental and practical dangers of living in the past. 

And we'll be honest, digging oneself out of personal history isn't easy. But it is possible. The key is learning to let go and forgive — both yourself and others. Also, try remembering that:

  • Nobody is perfect, and people who expect you to be aren't worth your time.
  • Most people probably aren't judging or thinking about you nearly as much as you think they are.
  • Big mistakes blossom into invaluable lessons. It may not seem like it at times, but weathering the hard parts made you a better person.

General Coping Tips When Life Is Hard 

Pinpointing the roots of our discontent is step one. But then what? How can you pick yourself up and find the motivation to keep putting one foot in front of the other? 

  • Develop a Sense of Self-Worth: Moving on is much easier when you're confidently in control of your life and enjoy a sense of emotional balance.
  • Change Your Perspective: It may feel impossible at first, but looking at the glass half full is possible. Start a gratitude journal and go from there.
  • Make a Plan (and Stick to It): People of all ages have turned their lives around by making well-defined goals and developing the discipline to follow through. Commit to one step at a time, then watch the magic unfold before you.
  • Quiet the Mind (Regularly): Meditation isn't just a new-age gambit. Hundreds of credible scientific studies have found it soothes neural pathways, improves cognitive function, and enhances one's ability to bounce back from adversity.

What Are the Benefits of Facing Hardships in Life?

Most of us put a lot of energy into avoiding the landmines of life. We'd rather not have to face painful and difficult situations.

But, ironically, research suggests that those who have faced significant tribulations are more successful than those who haven't.

You've heard the saying, “What doesn't kill you makes you stronger,” and there is profound truth in it. When life feels too hard, here are some things to remember.

  • Adversity strengthens self-efficacy, which is confidence in your capacity to overcome obstacles.
  • Hardships build empathy. Through your own suffering, you are better able to respond to the suffering of others.
  • Challenges foster resilience as you learn you can keep going despite the roadblocks and pain.
  • Difficult times call for creative thinking. You learn new ways of coping and problem-solving.
  • Adversity reminds you to be grateful for all the people and things you have. It helps you refocus on the positive rather than dwell on the negative.

Yes, sometimes life is hard. The good news? You can handle it. You’re not made of glass, and as many times as life knocks you down, you can get back up and keep going.

The more you fall and get back up, the better you get at it — and the more you can help others do the same.

When you learn how to thrive even when the hammer falls, the thing you’ll be conquering is the temptation to let those painful experiences keep you down. Only one of you will emerge victorious from the battle, and it should always be you.

And there’s no reason why it can’t be. If you’re reading this, I’m betting you’re a lot tougher than you think.

So may your resilience, courage, and sense of adventure influence everything else you do today.