What doesn't kill us...

That old adage may actually be true.

Posted Oct 19, 2010

Exposure to terrible events typically produces negative effects on an individual's mental health and well-being; and the more adverse the event the worse the outcome. However, the researchers found that no exposure to negative events may also produce unhappiness. It turns out that over the course of our lifetimes we need to encounter some adversity and unpleasantness. Not too much, but some will make us ultimately more resilient. In other words, people exposed in moderation to adversity over the course of their lives are higher-functioning and had generally a higher life satisfaction over time. Furthermore, people who had encountered adversity in their life were less negatively affected when they encountered adverse circumstances later.

Because of these results, the authors concluded that in moderation, whatever does not kill us may indeed make us stronger.

This study is interesting and important on several levels, not simply to keep us from rolling our eyes when we are going through a terrible time and someone tries to cheer us up by throwing the one-liner our way. Knowing that being able to survive life's challenges may ultimately help us to better navigate our way through future adversity could help us to make it through a rough time. It can also be useful for those in the health professions, mental health professions, teachers, coaches, parents, and others to use that information while helping someone through a difficult time. In other words, without simply telling someone this adage (which is moderately helpful, at best), it might lead to the development of some subtle and supportive interventions where this information can be conveyed. It may not take the pain and suffering away, but might help a little for someone to know that ultimately a painful experience can have benefits too.