Life is full of adversity, and people facing challenging life circumstances have to find a way to cope. I'm interested in single words, phrases, or idioms that capture coping strategies. For example:

Jane's job was absurdly repetitive and oppressive, but for her family, she tried to make the best of a bad situation.

Are there good alternatives to the coping strategy of making the best of bad situation?

Clarification: I am looking for alternatives, especially idioms, that don't involve words like good and bad.


5 Answers 5


to sweeten the bitter pill

To make something bad, unpleasant, or dissatisfactory easier to cope with, endure, or accept.

“Jane's job was absurdly repetitive and oppressive, but for her family, she sweetened the bitter pill as much as possible.”

I suppose you could also say that Jane had no choice but to swallow the bitter pill. In other words, she was left with no choice but to accept her lot (situation) in life.

  • In my example, I am imagining that the bitter pill is administered every day over a long period of time, and no one is making an effort to sweeten it. It's not like the following examples from your reference: (1) The bosses are giving everyone an extra 10% bonus this Christmas, but I suspect it's a way of sweetening the pill that there will be massive pay cuts in January. (2) I have to tell my mom about wrecking her car, but I need to find a way to sweeten the pill first. May 17, 2020 at 16:49
  • I suppose you could say that she had no choice but to swallow the bitter pill, in other words she was left with no choice but to accept her lot (situation) without grumbling.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 17, 2020 at 19:26
  • Sounds like acceptance. :-) Yes, that would definitely be a coping strategy. Much healthier and more productive than fighting a losing battle day in and day out. Would you mind folding it into your answer? May 17, 2020 at 19:37
  • Thanks. To be clear, I was referring to adding something to the effect of having no choice but to swallow the bitter pill, where swallowing the bitter pill amounts to accepting one's situation. This was the essence of your comment. Hope you enjoy your visit. May 17, 2020 at 20:45
  1. To make lemonade out of lemons.
  • Lemons are sour.
  • Lemonade is sweet

To make lemonade out of lemons is to take something that is not so great and turn it into something good — ELU

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade is a proverbial phrase used to encourage optimism and a positive can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune. Lemons suggest sourness or difficulty in life; making lemonade is turning them into something positive or desirable — Wikipedia

I didn't find any dictionary definition but I've heard this idiom and used it myself.

  1. To find a silver lining.

Silver lining: An advantage that comes from a difficult or unpleasant situation.

Cambridge English dictionary

Example: Jane's job was absurdly repetitive and oppressive, but for her family, she tried to find a silver lining/ make lemonade out of lemons.

  • I like the version from Portal 2... “When life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade! Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! I don’t want your damn lemons; what am I supposed to do with these? Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am? I’m the man who’s gonna burn your house down... with lemons! I’m gonna get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns your house down!”
    – Fogmeister
    May 17, 2020 at 15:56

A search on Linguee.com for translations from a Spanish proverb, "a mal tiempo, buena cara", which literally translates to "to bad weather, [give] a good face", led me to the following idiomatic options:

  • To make the best of a bad job: "But if these elections do go ahead - if the government insists on them going ahead - we, Labour, are determined to make the best of a bad job." — BBC

  • To put a good face on things "Yet there they all were at Carnegie Hall, not only putting a good face on things but also doing their best." — NYTimes

  • See my comment above. Sorry for not making the question clearer. This are both good answers. May 17, 2020 at 12:51

make hay

For something that's a short verbal phrase, and almost in line with the single-word request of the question, try make hay.

From Merriam-Webster's definition of make:

make hay
: to make use of a situation or circumstance especially in order to gain an advantage
// The candidate made hay of his opponent's scandalous behavior.

As a regular verbal phrase, it has the advantage of being more versatile than the other x of y or to x the y forms of similar sayings.

The example sentence in the question could be shortened considerably with this:

Jane's job was absurdly repetitive and oppressive, but for her family, she tried to make hay.

An additional reference for this is from The Free Dictionary:

To take advantage; to make the most of an opportunity.
Chicago better be careful about turnovers, or you can be sure the defending champs will make hay in those situations.
We'll be able to make hay with so little traffic on the road.

 … This is a shortened version of the proverb make hay while the sun shines, which dates from the mid 16th century.

  • 2
    I'm not sure making hay is a strategy for coping with life challenges. It seems to be more about taking advantage of opportunities or using situations to gain an advantage. My example concerned a person not likely to be presented with any opportunities or situations that would enable her to gain an advantage. Hard to see a way for her to make hay. May 17, 2020 at 16:59

How about maintain a stiff upper lip. From Lexico:

a stiff upper lip: a quality of uncomplaining stoicism

This sort of mindset strikes me as an effective strategy for dealing with challenging life circumstances unlikely to change.

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