As we approach a holiday that is focused on giving thanks, we often think of all the positive aspects of our lives to be grateful for. We're encouraged to put aside our worries and downplay our moments of misfortune.
While it may seem counterintuitive to be thankful for our misfortunes, it is in those moments of gratitude where we find true wisdom.
Celebrations of success are so embedded in our culture that we are conditioned to think that the good times, rather than the bad times, are the only times worthy of our gratitude. Yet we are inundated with messages from successful people that say failure is good. There is tons of evidence that traumatic life events are also moments of key growth and breakthroughs.
It's easy to ignore the messages that good can come from the bad. But during this holiday season, if you want to experience a deeper level of meaning from life, stop being fearful of misfortune. You may be surprised at what you can learn.
Here are three important reminders of the value of those unforeseen challenges:
1. Misfortune leads to stronger community connections.
People extend their care and help during hard times. Having others extend themselves and share how much they care creates connection and leads to many beneficial health side effects. According to BeWell at Stanford, "There is research alleging that the number of friends correlates with longer life. Still other studies have found that people have better survival rates for diseases when they have social support." This coming together of people and community is an opportunity to use the power of connection to heal and remember that you are never alone.
2. You learn what you're truly capable of.
We are not tested in positive times in the same way as we are in moments of pain. In many cases, when your worst fears come true, you are forced to reconcile with them. You face a pivotal decision point: get stronger or crumble.
We know from large-scale tragedies like 9/11 that NYC as a city and the US as a country came together and got stronger. When disaster strikes, you grow. Nobody would choose hard times over good, but most people will say that it's the hard times that have crafted who they are. I know my biggest challenges have unearthed a resilience that I never knew I possessed. This resilience grows as I navigate other unforeseen disappointments. Psychologist Angela Duckworth also notes that "maintaining a sense of hope or resilience, even when there are setbacks, can cultivate Grit". Grit, according to Angela "Beats I.Q., SAT Scores, physical fitness and a bazillion other measures to help us know in advance which individuals will be successful in some situations".
3. You fear misfortune less.
Fear is bad for your health. When we fear misfortune, we are predicting the absolute worst scenario and often that is not reality. When you have experience with misfortune, you are familiar with the five stages of mourning, the feeling of loss and the pain of sadness. You also know that it's not permanent, and having gone through it before, you know that it will pass. Fear of the unknown is just that. When things happen, you manage it. Worrying about something happening before it happens is a complete waste of energy.
The bottom line is that life is uncertain. You never know what will really happen, what joys and what challenges will come your way. If you can, begin to think of those unfortunate moments as opportunities to be connected to others, learn what you're capable of, and gain valuable experiences. When you do that, life becomes a lot more peaceful and that is certainly something to be grateful for.