Life’s a roller-coaster

Bad times only stay bad if you don’t learn from them, and it’s the lessons learnt in difficult conditions that will keep you out of difficulties in the future. TIM SHARP

Timothy Sharp Happiness Institute

By Tim Sharp

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

So begins one of the greatest novels of all time (Charles Dickens: “A Tale of Two Cities”) with one of the greatest lines of all time; and few lines from the multitude of fictional works that make up the great libraries of the world would be more applicable today.

As an executive coach and consultant to entrepreneurs, small business owners and executives of large organisations, I’ve had many conversations over the last few weeks about the difficult times in which we currently find ourselves; and there’s no doubt these are “interesting” times.

But have you ever imagined a movie in which everything went perfectly and the main characters didn’t just live happily ever after but lived their whole lives in perfect bliss and harmony?

Have you ever watched your favourite sporting team have an overwhelmingly dominant victory in which they took the lead from the beginning, and then continued to score at regular intervals, ever extending their lead by the minute?

Have you ever had a work-related success in which you completed a ridiculously easy task only to be showered with praise for a job well done?

If so, how do these situations compare with the happy ending that comes after many trials and tribulations and with the hero or heroine overcoming extreme adversity before finding peace and fulfilment.

How do these compare with the game in which your team fights back after being dealt several bad decisions and pulls off a remarkable last minute goal or try to win with just seconds left on the clock.

And what about the professional achievement arrived at only after you’ve shed blood, sweat and tears for the cause?

I’m guessing that if you’ve ever imagined or experienced any of the first three scenarios you’ll probably agree that as nice as they sound, they are, in reality, somewhat boring; and I’m also guessing that if you’ve ever imagined or experienced any of the second three situations you’ll probably agree that as stressful and difficult as they can be at the time, they are also, in reality, substantially more enjoyable and bring with them positive emotions that are thoroughly more intense and gratifying.

So what can we learn from this?

We can learn that the first group of situations are not real, occurring only in fairytales. In fact life’s not even like this in fairytales, in which there are always twists and turns, complications and conspiracies (think, for example, of Sleeping Beauty being poisoned, or Little Red Riding Hood being attacked by a wild animal, or Hansel and Gretel etc).

But even though we might sometimes wish life were like this, we need to be careful for what we wish… because we might end up getting it, and in this case, we might end up with boredom and banality.

In contrast, we can see that “real life”, with all its up and downs and highs and lows, might be challenging at times and might even be stressful and distressing at times but, and this is an important “but”, there’s a good argument for believing it’s the downs that make the ups, the distress that makes for the joy, the temporary setbacks that make the ultimate victory so much more beautiful and enjoyable!

But as poetic or prosaic as this might sound, my main brief as a coach is to find ways that such lessons can be applied in people’s everyday lives. And the good news is that I believe there is a practical strategy we can all take from this “life as a roller-coaster” metaphor… and that is that when you’re going through a low or struggling to overcome an obstacle, try to keep the big picture in mind.

Don’t forget that all things pass and that many difficulties don’t seem nearly as bad when we look back on them some time later.

Keep things in perspective and always look to what you can learn from mistakes; because failures are only failures if you don’t learn from them.

If you do learn, then they become incredibly valuable and therefore positive experiences.


Dr. Sharp’s latest book (out now) is “100 Ways to Happiness: a Guide for Busy People” (Penguin). You can find out more about corporate programs, presentations, and coaching services at and You can also ask him questions using the Comments panel below.

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