New research suggests that dealing with bad shit might actually make you happier over time — as long as there's not too much bad shit at once.
According to Benedict Carey of the Times, a new study asked people between the ages of 18 and 101 to list all the really bad things that had happened to them — stuff like divorce, a death in the family, or becoming severely ill. About 10% of the respondents couldn't list a single really bad event they'd been through, but oddly, they weren't blissfully happy. Instead, they had about the same level of happiness as people who had had twelve awful things thrown at them over the years. And the happiest people were the ones who'd weathered between two and six really bad things. Explains Carey,
In short, the findings suggest that mental toughness is something like the physical strength: It cannot develop without exercise, and it breaks down when overworked. Some people in the study reported having had more than a dozen stressful events, and it showed.
It may not be that much consolation to people currently coping with death, job loss, or heartbreak, but the study appears to show that what doesn't kill you does in fact make you stronger. Carey explains that dealing with one bad event may prepare people for others: "Experience may provide more than a sense of what to expect and who one's real friends are." Coping with serious losses could also put smaller things in perspective, and it might put a stop to one of the least productive psychological spirals it's possible to get into: feeling bad, realizing lots of people have it worse, and then feeling bad about that. Finally, knowing you have the ability to deal with bad shit may help you feel better about yourself — says a commenter on the Times Well blog,
Having survived my share of life's blows, starting as a child with an alcoholic parent and moving on to the usual bouts of unemployment, heartbreaks, etc., I know that for me there is nothing more empowering than knowing that I have been through tough times and lived to tell about it. I did it then, and I can do it again, if need be. Though I hope I won't have to.
On Road To Recovery, Past Adversity Provides A Map [NYT]
Bouncing Back From Hard Times [NYT Well Blog]