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When life gives you lemons: A bittersweet adage with a twist!

Dr. Carol Chu-Peralta, Ph.D., Director and Founder August 2023

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” are commonplace words of encouragement in response to someone having a bad day or experiencing an unexpected, aversive event. Delivered with the best intentions, and yet it is a platitude that can be (un)helpful. If we interpret this well-intended idea rigidly, then this class adage can feel quite discouraging. The idea of just continuing with your day can make you feel guilty for being uncomfortable with the unanticipated event, in which case the well-meaning advice does not produce positivity and optimism. Perseverance can be magical and effective! However, it is not the always-best approach for getting through all “bad” situations. Healthy optimistic thinking often entails the dialectic of accepting what is out of our control and adapting our responses (changing)to obstacles. This mindset introduces the belief that there can be multiple options for navigating a problem. Knowing that there are options can help you adapt to life’s unexpected hiccups.

Here are some alternatives for what to do with life’s lemons:

    1. Ask yourself, “Are these actually lemons?” Let’s say you were making empanadas, only to discover mid-way that you do not have enough chicken!      Frustrating, indeed. Now, before making lemonade out of this situation, take a pause and see if this even really is a problem. You were not expecting to runout      of a main ingredient, but is having to try out a different ingredient such a bad thing in this case? It does not have to alter your dinner or cooking experience.      You still get to eat empanadas.
    2. Don’t take the lemons and bail! Ever been honked at in traffic when it’s not budging? Just because you’re given lemons, does not mean you have to     embrace them. Instead, we can practice taking a moment to breathe and then leave those lemons there! You can walk away, because honestly, those are not     even your lemons to make lemonade out of. If a person is so overwhelmed with anger that they lash out at you, it is not your responsibility to assuage their     reactions.

    3. Return those lemons! When life’s lemons are in the form of added work when you don’t have the bandwidth, for example, then make life take those     lemons back. You do not have to passively accept the lemons! You can take action by practicing self-advocacy by giving those lemons back and asking for what     you need out of the situation.

    4. Arnold Palmer, anyone? Sometimes our sour lemons cannot be returned or bailed on. Sometimes we will have to make lemonade, but we can always add     a magical touch (cue in the iced tea) and respond to an unexpected event in an unexpected way. If you cannot work because of an injury, you do not just     have to look on the bright side (lemonade), you can use the newfound free time to learn a hobby or skill (Arnold Palmer).

When circumstances do not align with your expectations, it can throw anyone out of kilter, but taking a brief moment tore-center yourself can re-establish balance and supplant frustration with gratitude.

To find out more about compassionate and evidence based therapy for healing, trauma, anxiety, and depression please contact us at 201-661-3375.  

Written By: Dr. Carol Chu-Peralta, Ph.D., Director and Founder
Published By: Park Ridge Living

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