We’ve all heard this mantram, probably had it quoted at us, maybe even quoted it to others. When it’s us who’s suffering, it often feels like cold comfort; but now a MIND column by Benedict Carey, On Road to Recovery, Past Adversity Provides a Map, in the New York Times, suggests that it may be scientifically true.
He quotes Roxane Cohen Silver, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine: “Each negative event a person faces leads to an attempt to cope, which forces people to learn about their own capabilities, about their support networks — to learn who their real friends are. That kind of learning, we think, is extremely valuable for subsequent coping”.
In short, “the number of life blows a person has taken may affect his or her mental toughness more than any other factor.”
Certainly there can be too much of this “good thing“, and people who experienced up to a dozen negative events in their lives did not necessarily rebound well or quickly. But an odd result suggested by some studies was that people who hadn’t ever experienced serious negative events in their lives didn’t necessarily feel especially happy or confident. In fact, their satisfaction level was roughly the same as the overburdened. People who had had to deal with two, three, perhaps four, serious traumas exhibited the highest level of confidence and well-being.
Writes Carey, “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.”
Of course, this is the finding du jour, and today’s conclusion is apt to be upended tomorrow. But I know I’ve always recognized an intuitive truth in the saying, and sooner or later, it provides a gleam of hope that can become light in darkness.