5 Ways Your Life Gets Better After A Really Challenging Year Makes You Stronger

2014 is finally coming to a close, and I don't think I'm alone in feeling like this year would never end. If anything, 2014 was one of the harder years for people who were having tough times, because it was not exactly a year that was receptive to hearing about it. Just one look at the chart-topping songs of 2014 will give you an idea: Between "Let it Go," "Happy" and "Shake it Off," we basically spent the last twelve months shoving positivity down the throats of anyone with a radio. And while exposing ourselves to positive, empowering messages (preferably in the form of catchy pop songs) doesn't hurt, it also certainly doesn't fix things for anyone who happens to be experiencing the kind of challenges that can't be solved by a three-and-an-half minute song. When everything around you is bright and cheery, going through a hard time can feel even lonelier and more isolated. But that doesn't mean there isn't a definitely upside to having a rough year.

But happy songs aside, 2014 was also a year full of tragedy, loss, and hardship—some that we heard about in the news, and even more that people experienced on a personal, private level. For those of you who experienced hard times this year, I'm not going to lie and say everything's going to be fine in 2015, because the future can be scary and unpredictable. Awesome things are going to happen to you, and not-so-awesome things will, too. But if you've already had a challenging 2014, there is no reason to dread the clock striking midnight. In fact, there are many ways your life will improve after having a hard year:

Your New Year's Resolutions Are Actually Meaningful

After you experience setbacks in your life, you can do one of two things: give up, or find new resolve to try harder than you ever did before. Sometimes a rough year is just what you need to realize and focus on your goals—and to understand just what it will take to make progress to achieve them. This year a lot of people will flippantly resolve to do silly, meaningless things, or make resolutions that they have no intention of keeping, but you will be able to conquer yours with the determination of someone who has already endured enough to know exactly what you are capable of and how to get where you need to be.

You Know Who Your Friends Are

I think this is one of the most important things to do after you have had a tough year: Look around and see who stood by your side, because these are the friends who matter. Please forgive me for quoting Tim McGraw, but I first heard the lyrics from "You Know Who Your Friends Are" during one of those "The Universe Is Bleak And Everything Is Awful" points that we all experience every now and then, and it perfectly sums up my point:

Everybody wants to slap your back, wants to shake your handWhen you're up on top of that mountainBut let one of those rocks give way then you slide back down look upAnd see who's around then

We are all a bit surprised during rough patches in our lives to discover which friends are only fair weather ones—and even more surprised by which ones step up and support us when we've hit rock bottom. But in a way, it is worth it to have gone through whatever you did so that you could weed out the true friendships from the fleeting ones. You will feel even closer and share a connection with the friends who stood by you, and be able to support them when they endure hard times of their own.

You Know Yourself Better, Too

I think we have a lot of hypothetical or abstract ideas about how we would handle ourselves if the world started figuratively caving in around us, but it isn't until it actually happens that you fully appreciate what kind of person you are, and how you handle adversity. You learn your limits, about how much you can take. You learn about your capacity to feel, not just your own pain but the pain of others. After a hard year, you are undeniably changed from the person you were at the beginning of it, but you understand this new person a whole lot better because you have been stretched in ways that the old you could never have imagined.

And when you understand yourself, it is much easier to understand the kind of person you want to be, and what changes you need to make in your life to make those goals a reality. There is a sense of calm in knowing who you are that can really only come from hitting a low point. Now that you've been there, you have the kind of clarity that you might never have had before.

The Past Is In The Past

I'm not intentionally quoting "Let it Go" here, but this is one relieving truth we can definitely glean from that song: The bad things that have happened have already happened. They can't be changed or undone, no matter how long you dwell on them and wish that they could. The longer you spend thinking about them, the longer it will take to move on to a happier stage of your life.

I'm not saying that you can move on from your troubles in the blink of an eye, because that's not how the heart works, and we wouldn't learn much from our experiences if we forgot them completely. But I am saying that you have an opportunity at the beginning of this new year to start again, and move forward from what happened instead of letting it eat at you as if it is still happening in the present.

You Know You’re a Whole Lot Tougher Than You Thought

None of us really know how strong we are until that strength is tested, but you'll find that your ability to persevere is so much more powerful than you would've ever fathomed. You know now that you have endured the worst, maybe even the unimaginable, and you have survived it. The road isn't going to be smooth and easy-breezy for the rest of your days, but should tough times come again, you'll be able to weather them. I am a firm believer that the best is yet to come, and now that you have gotten through this year, you are that much closer to getting there.

Images: Chris Phutully/Flickr; Giphy (4)