Everything happens for a reason? What nonsense! On the other hand, what a great idea! Whatever your religious or philosophical background, this is a belief that you can use, even if it isn’t true.
There is no way to prove that everything happens for a reason. In fact, when you think about some of the truly terrible things that happen to people, it seems almost rude to even suggest it at times. But as a personal belief, it can do wonders for your outlook on life.
For example, suppose you lost your job. There must be a reason, so you start looking for one. Soon you find your “true purpose” in life, get a better job, and have more happiness. Without the belief that things happen for a reason, people sometimes are just devastated by such “bad luck,” and do nothing to better their lives, right?
Lying To Children (And Ourselves)
Notice that I put “true purpose” in quotation marks above. Why? Because this is another idea that may be nonsense, but is useful. It gives life more meaning, and so may lead to more happiness. It is like telling a child that he can be anything he wants to be. What nonsense!
This is easily proven false. I won’t even give examples here, because you can think of many reasons why some people will never be able to do some things. On the other hand, the general idea can be very motivating. If a child is told instead that there are only some things she can do, she’ll likely start ruling out many of the things she really might be able to do.
These are what I call “useful lies.” It isn’t even about whether they are true or not (maybe it’s actually true that everything happens for a reason). These kinds of beliefs are generally impossible to prove (hence the designation of “lies”), and often blatantly silly, but they organize one’s thinking in a way that leads to more productive outcomes. If you believe that you were “meant” to be a writer, for example, you won’t get discouraged from that writing career as easily as someone who just “gives it a try.”
Believe It Or Not
The belief can be false and still work, but even more interesting is the fact that it doesn’t even have to be a belief. In other words, you may actually think that the idea “anything is possible” is nonsense, and yet still use it. Think of it as an “operating principle.” Act as though anything is possible and you’ll find more possibilities in life than if act on more skeptical principles.
I recently read a true story about Bill Harris, the founder of the Centerpointe Institute, one of the bigger online distributors of motivational CDs. When his company was young, he was sued for a million dollars. Although the lawsuit was frivolous, it was going to take a lot of money to defend his company – money he didn’t have. Did this happen for some higher reason? I doubt it.
Harris, however, seems to believe that everything happens for a reason, or at least he acts as if this is true. As a result, his reaction was to sit down and list sixty possible benefits of being sued, starting with “I can learn about the legal system.” He says that every one of the benefits on his list came true, and today the company is bigger and better than ever. That’s the power of a good idea.
You can use good ideas like good tools. Pick them up and set them down (and pick up a better one) as necessary. You don’t have to cling to them as some revealed “truth” to get the value. But if you really do believe that everything happens for a reason, and my concept of “useful lies” has shaken your faith, just assume that this has happened for some good reason.