Don't Waste Your Suffering
The Good Life|March 2020
What knocks us down can also lead us back stronger than ever

“When heaven is about to confer a great responsibility on any man, it will exercise his mind with suffering…”

— Meng Tzu, The Book of Mencius, China, 3rd century BCE

One of my favorite “Good Life” contemporary philosophers, Jonathan Haidt, got me thinking some years ago about the value of adversity and the problem of overvaluing what I will call “haha happiness.”

Haha happiness seeking is about wanting to be intensely and continuously on an emotional high.

Happiness is a great resource, but overvaluing this haha sort of happiness can cause us to flee from tough stuff, which lessens our chance of becoming resilient and resourceful.

Resilience — the ways that people cope with bad things that happen to them and bounce back — has been a hot topic for many years.

But only lately have researchers begun to focus on the benefits of stress. These benefits are often called post-traumatic growth (in contrast to post-traumatic stress disorder).

One benefit is that we can find or develop new skills and abilities. Haidt says that one of the most common lessons people draw from trauma is that they are much stronger than they realized which gives them confidence to face future stress.

Another benefit has to do with relationships. Trouble can cause some friends to melt away, but those that stay often develop into stronger, more authentic friendships.

A third benefit is that big trouble often re-arranges priorities and carries a useful lesson. Often the lesson goes something like this… caring about people matters more than caring about money and achievement.

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