Updated on 08.29.14

Dealing with Personal Disappointment and Tragedy

Trent Hamm

Over the last few days, I’ve been dealing with a deep personal disappointment, one that I’d rather not discuss in public (don’t worry, it’s not relevant to The Simple Dollar – it’s wholly personal). It’s left me feeling empty and rather sad and – frankly – not very motivated to write at all. I’ll sit down, intending to write or get other tasks done, and find myself staring out the window, thinking about other things and usually feeling miserable.

This is something that a lot of people go through. A sudden death. A major fight or the end of a relationship. A long-hoped-for event falling through. They can hit you in the chest and make it feel as though the winds have completely fallen out of your sails, no matter how well other aspects of your life are going.

afterA few months ago, I reviewed the excellent book After the Darkest Hour, which dealt with this very problem: how do you get your professional and other personal aspects of your life back on track after a disappointment? I turned to this book over the last few days, and here are the pieces of advice it provided that really clicked for me and helped me to find the strength to write this post and others.

Advice on Dealing with Personal Tragedy

Focus on helping others

Part of the impetus of this post was the realization that part of my “job” when it comes to The Simple Dollar is to help people. I’m dealing with something painful, but dealing with such things is a key part of the human experience, something we all deal with.

So I turn the question around. What can I do right now to help someone else through a problem? It leads me back to my real purpose for The Simple Dollar, gets me to the keyboard, and gets me writing.

For you, the solution might be simply helping out a friend or a relative with a task that they have, or putting in some extra time with a volunteer project you’re involved with. It’ll make you feel better, just as actually sitting down and writing this is making me feel better.

Allow yourself to go ahead and grieve

Instead of lightly dwelling on the item at hand and continually pushing it off into the future, allow yourself to grieve. If you need to cry, just let the tears come now rather than later.

Pushing off the grieving process does nothing more than extend the problem. Sitting here, staring out the window, and dwelling lightly on the issue while also feeling guilty about the work I’m not doing isn’t really helping at all. I’d be far better off just taking a walk or going someplace by myself and just letting it all come out at once. Then, I can get back to the tasks I need to do with my full concentration sooner rather than later.


No matter what I’m going through or how I feel, meditation improves my mood and my calmness. Just go into a quiet place for twenty minutes or so and simply relax and empty your mind.

Don’t know how? Here’s a suggestion. Sit back, close your eyes, and try to clear your mind of every thought – make it as empty as possible. Then slowly imagine each part of your body going to sleep – I like to imagine it slipping into a warm pool of water. Start with your feet, then your calves, then your knees, and so on. Nice and slow. Once you’re up to your neck, then slowly do it in reverse, all the way back down. It really does work, and it makes you feel refreshed no matter what you’re going through.

Talk to others about what you’re feeling

If you’re facing a difficult personal situation, don’t just let it build up inside of yourself. Share it with others.

My wife and I have had several long conversations recently, mostly taking place as we sat on our bed together. I’ve talked to a few additional family members and friends as well. Each time, I felt better about things and was more able to concentrate on tasks at hand.

Look for role models

Do you know anyone who rolled through a similar experience and got themselves right back on track? They’re likely a great source for advice and thoughts – and also a great source of inspiration from afar.

I have a friend who went through a nearly-identical experience about fifteen years ago. Today, I’ve been using her as inspiration – and it’s helped quite a bit. If she can do it, I can do it.

Watch a funny movie – or do something else that’ll make you laugh

Humor is a natural and healthy mood-lightener and it works impressively well.

What I often do is turn to hulu.com and watch the previous episode of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. I usually get a few laughs and, at the end, I feel quite a bit better. In fact, as I’m writing this, an episode of The Colbert Report was playing in the background … and it does work. I do feel better.

Spend time with someone who naturally makes you happier

For me, that’s easy. Few things make me feel better than spending time with my kids and my wife. Their mere presence – their ordinary behavior – tends to lift my mood quite a bit, making painful things much easier to get through.

And with that thought, I’m walking away from the keyboard early today. I’m going to go take my kids to story time at the library and then go to the park, as this is likely one of the last nice days before winter begins to set in. I can’t think of anything better than waving at my son as he stands at the top of the tall slide and helping my one year old daughter slide down the small slide.

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  1. Valerie says:

    Trent, sorry to hear about whatever it was – and glad it didn’t affect your wife and kids! I was worried about them there for a minute…

  2. onaclov says:

    I’m sure all the reader’s here agree when I say, we all hope it works itself out!!!!!

    We all appreciate what you do around here!

  3. Carrie says:

    googling LOLCAT makes my day better, just in case you need another pick me up.

  4. Rob says:

    When I hear poeple moan and groan, or complain, I tell them to visit a childrens hospital, or homeless shelter, and then tell me your problems.

  5. Rob says:

    Or visit both, I should say.

  6. M says:

    First off, Trent, I hope you’re feeling better. And second, thank you. I’ve spent a large part of my time in the recent past struggling with this very issue and it’s helpful to know that I’m not alone – and that there are things I can do to help myself through the process. So…thank you.

  7. Kristen Mary says:

    I am very sorry for what you are going through. We appreciate you!!

  8. Dorenda says:

    I am new to your site having stumbled onto it a few days ago. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all you have had to offer in your writings. I know I really don’t know anything about you other than what I have read from within your posts, but, I believe you are one step ahead to healing just knowing that you have to deal with this tragedy in your life and not allow it to hide beneath the surface lurking to destroy you and your family as I know from my past can happen so very easily.

    Good luck to you and your family as you work to deal with this issue in your life. And continue to reach out to people in the ways you have and your life will become much richer for it as will theirs also.

  9. Kevin says:

    Hope things work out for you, but I think you’ve got the right idea – focus on the wife and kids. Have a good Halloween and enjoy the weekend.

  10. Trent, I’m very sorry to hear that you’ve been depressed lately. You’re in our thoughts.

  11. Ro says:

    Very sorry to hear you’ve been troubled.

  12. Brandon says:

    also, google “dogs in halloween costumes”

  13. keep your head high, and lean on the ones that love you.

  14. Trent, I’m sorry to hear you are going through such a rough time. Grieving is confusing. It does not take a linear path…and it takes as long as it takes.

  15. Marcia says:

    Certainly keeping your in prayer and trust that things will work out….. ((((((((((((hugs))))))))))))

    And this is a very good post………..

  16. Anne says:

    Trent, best wishes to you and your family as you work through this disappointment! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with all of us who read The Simple Dollar–you’re great, and as usual have composed a well-written and thoughtful post. I appreciate the way you illustrate each of the strategies for getting back on track with examples from your own life.

  17. Heidi says:

    I’ve read you enough to know you’re not looking for sympathy, but you have it anyways, whatever’s going on. My prayers are with you. Have a happy Halloween with your family.

    Some other great pick me ups:
    cute puppies (maybe this is better for girls ;)
    and punditkitchen.com

  18. Jasmin says:

    I want to second the person above who said that thank god your wife and kids are okay. I’ll admit to skimming this the first time, until I knew that the family was okay.
    My thoughts are with you, in whatever it is. Thank you for everything you do.
    Flowers… @};-

  19. Jeremy says:

    > When I hear poeple moan and groan, or complain,
    > I tell them to visit a childrens hospital, or
    > homeless shelter, and then tell me your problems.

    So you want people who are already feeling bad to go and see other people, so they can feel worse because their problem isn’t as bad as someone else and they shouldn’t be feeling down (if that makes sense)?

  20. Carlos says:

    Hey Trent-

    Sorry to hear that you’re having to deal with “stuff”. If there’s a favor you need, ask.

  21. Lucky says:

    Trent – Sending good vibes your way. I’m glad you have people you can lean on.

    Rob – Just because other people have it worse, doesn’t mean one’s present situation doesn’t suck. People in hospitals and homeless shelters could have it worse too…

    Shoot, you could be a homeless burn victim with leprosy and no health insurance whose dog died before you could forgive it for running off with your significant other, who then also died in a freak egg-whisk accident. All of this in a war zone. With weasels chewing on your face. During a hurricane.

    It can always be worse. Did hearing about starving kids in Africa make you want to eat your vegetables?

  22. KJC says:


    Sorry to hear you hit a speed bump, – hang in there! You’ve chosen the best therapy… enjoy and cherish them! Things will definitely turn around for you.

  23. I found out a few days ago that a friend of mine (we went to university together) diagnosed with cancer and has five more years to live. This guy has two kids and now the whole family is just waiting for that day when The Call will come. This is my first time seeing someone dying helplessly like this and there is nothing anyone can do.
    A Dawn Journal

  24. Debbie says:

    Take the time to grieve whatever it was. To many people try to stuff it down and ignore the event. Feel what you feel and with time you will be able to move on just a little bit more than the day before.

  25. Mary Ellen says:

    They say “If you are going thru hell – KEEP GOING”

  26. Be praying for strength for you through this difficult time! Thank you for still serving others through the Simple Dollar.

    In many ways I agree with Rob. So often realizing that we are not alone in our suffering and looking for ways to help others is an excellent way to put our struggles in perspective. That said, there IS a most definitely a place for grieving and coming to grips with a loss. But realizing that we are not the only ones may help the trial not to overcome us.

  27. Deborah Johnson says:


    Thanks for such a thoughtful post. Hang in there.

  28. BirdDog says:

    Sorry you are going through tough times, Trent. I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers. You provide a great service here and I have it’s not a normal day for me now if I don’t check your blog each day. I appreciate what you do, you’ve helped me make positive changes in my life and my wallet is thicker because of it. Hang in there buddy.

  29. Lurker Carl says:

    The end of anything marks a new beginning, mourn the loss and move on to the next chapter. Leaning on family and friends is your best crutch. Look for the good and move toward it, more people are cheering you on than you’ll ever know.

  30. Carrick says:

    Weirdly enough, I was just thinking about one of my own life tragedies that happened years ago that I still feel enormous, crushing guilt over–at the moment that I brought up your site. And just the sentence “allow yourself to grieve” made my eyes fill up with tears. I still don’t think any amount of crying will help me stop feeling horrible about it, but at least it helps to know that getting over tragedies is something everyone has to go through, and that it is possible to move on with your life.

    Hope you’re doing better, and thanks for what you do.

  31. moneyclip says:

    When my mother died, I nearly lost it. I cried for about 4 weeks straight and went into a serious case of depression for about a year. I think you never get over something like that. Instead you make it part of your existence. My mother’s death was tragic, shocking and quite sudden. Instead of dwelling on it, and letting it ruin me, I used her death as a motivating factor for me to live longer, healthier and be a better person. Her death inspired me to pay off my debts, invest in my future, treat people better, and get in contact on a regular basis with family and friends; amongst many other things.

    My advice is to take whatever is dragging you down, go through the normal process of dealing with it, whether that be morning, crying, head banging or whatever, and then use that experience to further yourself as a person and to benefit those around you. Break down whatever the situation is, and find the good no matter how gloomy or depressing the issue. That’s what I did, have done, and will continue to do, and so far it’s worked well.

  32. kristine says:

    It’s better to feel worse for a while, then to feel less.

    It’s good to have a family.

  33. Mark says:

    Thanks for sharing this with us Trent. There’s not much to say… but it’s good that you’re doing what feels right for you. The Simple Dollar will wait, as we’ll we — your readers. You don’t own anybody anything and if you want to take a few days off, just do it…. peace man!

  34. Nurseb911 says:

    Sometimes everyone needs a break on a professional or personal level to deal with something in their lives.

    Self reflection is a great tool that anyone can utilize in good or bad times. It’s who you become on the other side that makes the difference over the long-term and I’m confident after reading your site for a while that you have the character to overcome adversity.

    Best wishes

  35. Christina says:

    Sorry to hear that you’ve hit a rough patch. Please know that you’re not alone and lots of people are sending positive thoughts your way!

    Hope you’ll be back to feeling like you again, soon!

  36. Frugal Dad says:

    Sorry to hear you are going through a tough time, Trent. Take your own advice and allow yourself some time to grieve–even if it requires a break from helping folks through The Simple Dollar. We’ll be hear when you get back!

  37. Kris says:


    Sorry to hear you’re going through a rough time. I’m with everyone here who’s grateful to you for this website and all your help – it has certainly helped me! We all feel for you and know how much it sucks when “stuff” happens. I wish you and your family well.

  38. Asiyah says:

    All my best to you. I hope you know how truly valuable I find your blog.

    Keep your head up. It will all work out for you.

  39. Jesse says:

    If you can’t shake out of it, please see a psychologist. I had a really bad depression that I thought I could get myself out of, but I couldn’t.


  40. sylrayj says:

    The news is so often bad, and so many people keep watching, filling themselves with it. In general, I try to find more positive things to surround myself with, but maybe the others have a good idea there. They’ll know each celebrity who’s had a relationship fail, who’s lost an item which was precious, who gained weight at the wrong time, etc. etc. And they’ll thus have that access to a role model who has gone through the situation and survived, in case one day they do too.

    I think I’ll wait, though, and find my role models when that particular darkness comes to me.

  41. eaufraiche says:

    sorry to hear you’re having a rough chapter, Trent.

    after losing a baby years ago, I read all the books available about grieving, and a piece of advice that might serve others in addition to what you’ve written…. set aside a specific time to grieve (or mull if that’s what the event requires). observe that ritual of mourning “appointment” daily. it helps separate that time from other details of the day – seemed especially helpful w/ other small ones in the house.

    additionally, 2cents worth of music therapy. indulge your mood by playing something that expresses it. then, if you can, play subsequent pieces that elevate your mood (gradually, piece by piece). if you don’t want to elevate your mood that’s fine also…

    making music yourself is even more therapeutic – whether you’re playing an instrument or singing. try it for about 20, 30 minutes.

    being human is way tough sometimes! hang in there!

  42. Jan says:

    Chin up, buddy. “This too shall pass”, as we hear so often about the economy these days.
    Sunshine comes after rain.
    Life will unsuck again later.
    We need you.
    Take care.

  43. Sarah says:

    Sorry to hear you’re down, Trent.

  44. robyn says:

    Trent, for someone who gives every single day, it can be hard to take a bit of time for your self to heal. Just know we are all hoping you are able to grieve in your own way and take the time you need to do it. Spending your time with your children and wife is probably the best cure of all!

  45. Joan says:

    Trent, Debbie is so right, take all the time you need to grieve. I’m really glad to hear that you and your wife can talk about what the problem is. Sometimes, you just need to talk, talk and talk some more. You have been such an uplifting person in my life with the Simple Dollar. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  46. Andy Rowe says:

    Hey Trent – best wishes from Oxford, England. Hope things improve. Meditation can be a great help as you point out. I found ‘Beginning Mindfulness’ by Andrew Weiss a very helpful book about the subject – may even me worth one of your helpful reviews. Regards. Andy

  47. Gigi says:

    Like everyone else, I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through some hard times. My prayers for peace and healing are with you and your family.
    Know that you are loved by many who have never even met you.

  48. SS says:

    Dear Trent, I am a recent subscriber of your newsletter. You have some great information for everyone. As the Bible says, Trials and Tribulations build character such as suffering.
    I have suffered much in my life with famiy death-brother, father within two years and mom more recently. Suffering comes in many ways. My suggestion is to pray to God. Be thankful for the good things you have and tell God you are going to put it in his hands. Also, if you feel worse
    and depressed seek professional help. Never ignore
    if you feel worse. I appreciate you letting me
    express myself in words. It makes me feel better
    too. God loves you!!!!! Remember that!!!!!
    Always go to the father in heaven to help.

  49. Bay says:

    Sorry to hear that things are down for you right now. Hope that they turn around real soon. Love, Bay

  50. Marie says:

    I hope you’ll be feeling better in no time! The great support you have at home will get you on your way. Thank you for taking the time to help and think of others – even when you are going through a rough patch. Giving is the key to true inner joy. Your site is such a great help and encouragement – especially in discouraging financial times! Thanks for all that you do for those of us who are getting our financial acts together!

  51. KoryO says:

    Sorry to hear that you are going through a rough time. Will be sending happy thoughts and wishes your way.

  52. Lynne says:

    I too, am sorry to hear you are facing a personal loss. It doesn’t matter whether it is the loss of a family member, a book deal, a job, or something else. We all suffer losses that affect us deeply, and only time will ease that suffering. While I am in the midst of my own sorrow at losing my husband, that doesn’t prevent me from caring about the feelings of those around me, or recognizing that their losses are every bit as valid as my own, regardless of what they are. I am wishing you and your family the best while coping with your situation.

  53. Victoria says:


    I am wishing you well! You have done so much for me by way of your columns. I hope that the issue is quickly resolvable. Good thoughts, and best wishes!

  54. Victoria says:


    I am wishing you well! You have done so much for me by way of your columns. I hope that the issue is quickly resolvable. If not, I wish you all of the resources necessary to deal with the issue.

  55. Suzanne says:

    I follow your blog, and therefore your life too. I just wanted to say that I’m thinking of you.

  56. moneysavingmama says:

    Trent, your pain is no less than anyone else’s.Deal with it how you want to deal with it.

  57. TParkerson says:

    Trent…the highway of life has some pretty rough patches of asphalt on it. But by simply moving, you will get through this.

    It gladdens my heart to see so many positive words from so manyof us that have grown to love and respect you. Add my warm fuzzies to the list, please.

    And speaking of warm fuzzies, I have found that just sitting with the warm sunshine on my face really does help. Actually, there is a gland behind your eyes that helps to emit a “positive” hormone and lightens your mood. That’s why we all feel so good after a beach day…Sunshine also increases your bodies production of vitamin D, a natural mood booster!

    Anyway, here is to better days…I am sending you “chicken soup and warm sunshine” thoughts!


  58. Amanda says:

    Sending good thoughts your way.

  59. Lisa says:

    “empty and sad” — ouch.

    Sunlight can help, playing with children and pets (such glorious innocence!) as well. Be gentle with yourself and take extra time.

    It seems to me that this is one of the reasons you have ‘extra’ posts on hand, so that if you just can’t face writing for a day (or 2) you aren’t adding stress to the situation.

  60. Cindy says:

    We just lost out perfect dream house to another offer. I know it’s just a house, but when you feel so good about it and are so sure you will live there, it’s hard to have that ripped out from underneath you. I was really down about it for a couple of days, but I’m now realizing that it is just a house, bricks and mortar. Rooms.

    So while I don’t have any specific advice for you other than what you’ve already done, I’d just say that we Simple Dollar fans hope things start looking up and maybe knowing that we are all concerned will give you the strength to make it through the tough moments until you feel more like yourself. Good luck.

  61. Suzanne says:

    Trent, I’m thinking of you now and hoping things shift for the better. I benefit from your blog in so many ways and share it with family & friends. You’re a person who is wise beyond his years, whatever they may be. Take Care.

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