Ten years ago, married couple Marc and Angel Chernoff felt like they were drowning in tragic news: They’d just lost a best friend to a heart attack, a sibling to suicide, and their livelihood following a layoff. “We didn’t know how to sleep and cry at the same time,” Marc recalls of how their broken hearts hit rock-bottom. Numbed by depression, grief, and fear of becoming homeless, they were unsure of how to regain their footing. Angel shares, “You can’t see the silver lining. You can’t see how you’re going to get out of that storm.” And yet, as impossible as it seemed, the duo successfully reinvented their lives. How? By creating small daily rituals that gradually allowed them to see hope and beauty in their lives. The key, as they explained it, was to “focus a little less on managing your problems and a little more on managing your mindset.”
Now with their blog, Marc & Angel Hack Life, the couple is helping millions of people move past their setbacks. They don’t deny that painful events happen, but instead say, “if we can learn to think better, we can ultimately live better.” They emphasize that there’s healing on the other side. “It’s crazy to see all the beauty that came from those incredibly painful life changes that we would never in a million years wish on somebody else,” notes Marc. “Life is unpredictable, but that doesn’t mean we are powerless or we don’t have many, many options to create meaning and find joy.” Best of all, this type of healing is possible for anyone. Read on for Marc and Angel’s tips to regain perspective when you’re feeling beaten-down or stuck in a rut. The couple promises, “You might look back on today as the day your whole life changed.”
1. Look for glimmers of goodness.
“The happiest people live not with a certain set of circumstances but with a certain set of attitudes.”
“When we were in the lowest of lows, we had ultimately lost sight of the goodness that remained in our lives,” confesses the couple. Gratitude became the first step in their recovery. Depressed and lying on the floor one night, Marc recalls, “The moon suddenly broke through the clouds and illuminated the dark room I was in. Within seconds, a light breeze started blowing the white window curtains over me. I smiled, for the first time in days. And without thinking twice, I whispered, ‘Life is still a miracle to be grateful for.’”
From that moment, despite their struggles, the couple started to list their blessings: They had each other, their parents, and their health. “Have no doubt: A simple 10-minute ritual like a gratitude meditation can change your entire life,” says Marc, who does this daily. “Gratitude is arguably the king of happiness,” the couple assures. “We don’t have to wait for positive moments to come to us once our sadness starts to finally, inevitably fade, but we can start cultivating positive moments in the bedrock of even our most painful experiences.”
2. Move on—even if you’re not ready.
“Changing your situation is about taking action in the present.”
“During our shared bout of depression, our lives came to a halt,” recalls Marc. “We definitely shut each other out. We were stuck. We sort of gave up.” One day, however, he realized, “Life is moving on. Look at the sun shining. The birds are out. Let’s take a walk and let the sun hit our skin as a reminder that, hey, we’re out of the house. We can’t change the things that have happened. But we have some opportunity here to step forward.” The couple began to recognize the myth of perfect timing. “We waste our energy waiting for the ideal path to appear, not realizing that paths are made by walking, not waiting," says Marc. “Sometimes the hardest part of the journey is simply believing you’re worthy of the trip," says the couple.
3. Widen your view.
“Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.”
“When we started, we barely even knew what a blog was,” admits Angel. Marc wondered, “Who are we to be giving advice? We’re still suffering.” But those fears presented a chance for growth. Marc says, “we have tunnel vision when we’re feeling down. Our focus is so narrow.” So whenever a negative thought entered their minds, they learned to ask: “is what I’m telling myself — that I’m not good enough — true?” By reframing your thoughts, Angel explains, “now you’re limitless. You’re not stuck.” Marc adds, “if a thought is defeating you, say something that’s completely opposite and let that feed your faith.”
4. Picture this to nix negativity.
“Happiness isn’t out there, waiting to be found — it’s in you, waiting to be embraced."
After Angel’s brother died, the couple was filled with uncertainty. “Why did he do it? Why didn’t we know he had lost hope? Those questions haunted us.” The realization that helped them keep moving forward was that "sometimes you have to give your wandering mind a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about, no matter how small, to shift your attention to when negativity starts to stir.” Try picturing flowers, the ocean, or a cute kitten. Why it works: Research shows that the mind is hardwired to function best when thinking optimistically. In short: Positivity boosts intellectual abilities so you can better dig your way out of a rut.
5. Release past pain.
“Be a pioneer of the future, not a prisoner of the past.”
“Growing up, I had this shame from being adopted,” says Angel. “I had always wanted to reach out to my biological mother. I had her phone number for over a year before I gave her a call.” What changed? Angel was finally ready to release the old hurt that wasn’t serving her. “It wasn’t easy. I was a hostage to that pain because I was holding on so tight but never taking any action.” She adds, “being able to talk to her gave me closure and clarity. Now I see that everything I’ve been through has shaped me into who I am. Once you come out of the storm, you see yourself as you really are without the baggage that’s been holding you back. And that makes all the difference, because it frees you to take the next step.”
6. See change as growth.
“Use pain to motivate you toward a bigger goal.”
Six years ago, Angel rolled her ankle and tore all the ligaments and tendons in her foot. “She couldn’t walk for 10 weeks,” Marc recalls. While it was easy to complain, Angel began to wonder, “why would I risk wasting this opportunity, this gift of being able to recover?” So she took that time to set a big goal — to eventually run a half marathon. She learned to “be an arrow” in moments of struggle. “An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward,” she says. “When life pulls you back with difficulties, it means it’s eventually going to launch you forward in a positive direction.” The couple adds, “When framed and leveraged the right way, our setbacks can motivate us.”
7. Be a thought watcher.
“When you let go, you think better, you live better”
Angel was blindsided by the blues after becoming a mom. “I was trying to do it all. The thought going through my mind was, I can’t do this; I’m not good enough. It was too much.” Slowly, she learned to become a thought-watcher. “Just because the world around you is chaotic doesn’t mean the world within you has to be,” she says. By existing outside those thoughts, you can watch them drift by like clouds. “You discover you are not the thoughts. You are merely an observer, one who’s capable of letting go, changing your mind and rising above the turmoil.”
Read the full interview with Marc and Angel Chernoff in the latest issue of First for Women, on newsstands now!
This article orignally appeared in our print magazine.