Epitomizing a positive attitude, Find the Upside of the Down Times provides advice for turning bad situations into opportunities.

If you’ve ever been through tough times and wondered why it happened to you, you might have been comforted by Rabbi Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People (First Anchor Books, 1981). Turn your bad experiences into good ones! Rob Pennington, MD (Resource International, 2011) is a perfect complement to Kushner.

Kushner helps questioners suffering through tragic events that seem patently unfair to those who have done their best to live good lives. Where Kushner does an excellent job of assisting people in dealing with the “How could this happen to me?” question, Pennington ignores that aspect and focuses instead on how to make the most of the cards you are dealt. He doesn’t minimize the impact of adverse events but chooses to focus instead on how to move forward despite them.

A Positive Attitude Strategy

The tone of Find the Upside of the Down Times is clear from Pennington’s opening sentence of chapter 1: “I was shot in the center of the chest by an unknown assailant…It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.” Is this man insane? How can being shot be a good thing?

Pennington’s theme can best be summed up this way: Stuff happens to us all. Some of it is terrible, but stop whining and get on with your life. It is not a direct quote but seems to be his theme as he repeatedly points out that positive opportunities always exist, despite the overwhelming nature of a problem. But, of course, you must be looking for them to find positive possibilities, and Pennington provides many suggestions.

Rob Pennington

What are Pennington’s qualifications for giving such advice? Aside from his Ph.D. in psychology, his personal experiences include: Being shot in the chest; Facing a thirty-six thousand dollar hospital bill without medical insurance; Being divorced by his first wife; Being fired; Being threatened with divorce by his second wife; Becoming the caregiver for his second wife when she becomes incurably ill with MS.

The reader might suspect the author suffers from acute Pollyannaish symptoms—being in severe denial of the terrible situations he faced. But Pennington isn’t advocating ignoring a tragedy by calling it a chance; He means we should accept negative occurrences without concentrating on them, then move on to constructive behaviors like seeking out and seizing new possibilities.

He sums up that philosophy this way: “It is a lot easier to get out of a rut if you look for a way out than if all you think about is what won’t work.”

Among the many tidbits of advice for dealing with adversity are tips for:

  • Reducing everyday stresses like lengthy queues and traffic bottlenecks.
  • A three-step process for finding a positive possibility in an adverse event.
  • Stress as a signal for transformation.
  • A five-step process for taking proactive action to change a negative circumstance.
  • A preference versus requirement process for dealing with relationship issues.

Dealing with the Stress of Bad Things

Find the Good in Bad Times is not only filled with excellent advice for those facing adverse situations, but it’s also an exciting recounting of one man’s way of dealing with life situations most of us fear but never have to face.

Though Pollyannaish might seem to focus on opportunities within tragic events, the strategies are fundamentally sound and consistent with advice from positive psychologists’ research.