Why do good things happen to bad people?

Look carefully. Is that the question you thought it was or have the words been turned around?

At first glance you may have thought it said, Why do bad things happen to good people?—because almost everybody knows that question and can tell you it's based on the title of the book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harold S. Kushner. Many people can even tell you the book is written from the author's grief over the death of his son. His grief made both the title and the content of the book so poignant that the question has become a part of our language.

It's certainly a haunting question, especially because it can never be answered to everyone's satisfaction. Although it can sure evoke heated debates.

But we're not going to debate today.

Instead, we're going to ask two more questions and then try to make sense of them and the two already asked. Here are the other two:

Why do good things happen to good people?

Why do bad things happen to bad people?

From Here to Quaternity

Now we have completed the quaternity, which, as everyone knows, is a union of a group or set of four. Right? Just testing.

But what do the four questions have in common?

They all share the fact that something has happened. Whether what happened was good or bad, or the beholder or receiver is of positive or negative character, something has occurred.

So the real question needs to be, "How do we react to the events that change or affect our lives?"

To answer that question, we first need to define "grief." Grief encompasses the extraordinary range of human emotions caused by a change or an end in anything familiar. Therefore, when bad things happen, whether they happen to us, to our friends, or to our enemies, they fall outside the scope of our normal daily emotional lives. The same is true when good things happen.

The presumption that we only grieve bad events is false. We react to all change as an invasion of the status quo. Folks are stunned to learn of the negative impact on the lives of major lottery winners. When that ultimate good thing happens, one might think that all would be well in the world of the winners.

Not so. Statistics about the lot of lottery winners indicate that a large percentage of them lose all of the money within three years. A tremendous proportion of them wind up in therapy they didn't need prior to their good fortune, and many report the sad endings of family and personal relationships.

So much for the myth, "I will be happy when I become rich."

I Am Not A Bicycle 

We are made up of cells and molecules and other such things that go bump in the night. But bicycles and computers are also made up of cells and molecules. If there's a major distinction between us and inanimate objects, it's that we sensate beings have the ability to feel our emotions and to communicate them to others.

While we have the ability to express our emotions to others, we don't always do it. That's because we were socialized in a world that told us, "Don't feel bad," or "Don't feel sad," and to "Be Strong" when something bad or sad happened.

And lest you think we're only admonished to limit our responses to sad events, remember that we were also taught, "Don't toot your own horn," and, "Don't brag about yourself," which limit our ability to react to positive events.

The net result leaves an underlying message—Don't Feel—which is the saddest message of all.

It might be obvious that it's important to talk about sad or painful events, so as to not let our reaction to them fester inside of us. But undelivered communications, even about positive or happy things, tend to build up inside of us, and can even turn sour from lack of expression.

We strongly recommend that you make a habit of honoring your humanity on a daily basis, by communicating your reactions to all of life's events to people you trust.

So go ahead and toot your own horn, now that you know you're not a bicycle.

Broken Hearts

Exploring myths and truths about grief, loss, and recovery.
Russell Friedman

Russell Friedman is Executive Director of The Grief Recovery Institute, and co-author of The Grief Recovery Handbook, When Children Grieve, and Moving On.

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