This article is from the In-Depth Report The Science of Happiness
60-Second Mind

Adversity Is Linked to Life Satisfaction

A certain amount of negative life events is correlated with an overall sense of life satisfaction and happiness. Christie Nicholson reports

Adversity is a bad thing right? It means stress and we know stress is no good for our mental and physical health. But we also hear that adversity brings resilience. What does not kill us makes us stronger, as it were.  

A multiyear study of nearly 2,400 surveyed subjects found that those who experienced negative life events reported better mental health and overall well-being than those who did not. The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Negative events included serious illness, violence, bereavement, social stress, relationship stress, and disasters like fires, floods, etc.  

So those who had zero negative life events experienced more overall stress and lower life satisfaction. And here’s the rub: Those who experienced a high number of stressful negative events also reported greater stress.

It seems there’s a sweet spot, where a certain amount of struggle is good and produces a toughness and sense of control over one’s life, but anything above or below that amount is correlated with the inverse:  Distress, anxiety, and feelings of being overwhelmed.

While the authors note that its impossible to identify this sweet spot of adversity, their research suggests that around two to three events might provide the ideal amount of protection from future stress and unhappiness. Yet they are careful to note they are not endorsing anyone to go out and purposely induce a negative life event.

—Christie Nicholson


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