We’ve all been there. We’re sharing a particularly painful or confusing experience with a friend and our struggle is met with the almost-inevitable cliché, “well, everything happens for a reason.”
The phrase, while almost always well-meaning, effectively shuts down the conversation.
Instead of encouraging an authentic, possibly-helpful dialogue, the adversity is unceremoniously summed up. What can possibly be said in response?
Saying things happen “for a reason” is actually a very natural, human response. It’s uncomfortable to be present to other people’s pain. We want to help, and it’s hard when someone’s problems just cannot be fixed.
It’s our attempt to cover up their pain and put a Band-Aid on it. It’s what we say when we want to convey comfort, but really don’t know how to express it.
Panacea for the Pain
Here’s the thing: we all want to think there’s a greater good for our troubles.
Believing there’s a higher purpose and a valuable lesson in our misfortunes is comforting. It helps us make sense of the messiness and obstacles of life.
When I’ve talked to people who have experienced true tragedies, such as the loss of a child, though, they rarely have found comfort in being told there’s a reason for their unbearable, overwhelming pain.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to find the good in our circumstances. Looking for the proverbial “silver lining” often leads to feelings of consolation and hope in the midst of tough times.
Even this, though, should be tempered. Constantly utilizing “cognitive reappraisal”, the process of looking for the bright side of unfortunate events, isn’t always the best approach.
According to a study in Psychological Science, feeling bad about an event you caused or had some control over can be a good thing. Those negative emotions have a purpose. They can help you learn from unfavourable circumstances and change behaviours accordingly if…