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There might be a scientific silver lining to getting through difficult life events


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When you’re stuck in the middle of a difficult life event—whether that’s a death, a messy breakup, you name it—it’s nearly impossible to imagine emerging from the sadness better off than you were before (or coming out of it at all, TBH). You’re more likely to be concerned with getting through the trauma than with seeing any kind of silver lining. But a new (albeit small) study found one potentially positive result of suffering through hard times.

The study, published in the Journals of Gerontology: Series B, discovered that how you cope with something difficult in your life can have a big impact on the development of your wisdom. Because going through a trying time “disrupts your sense of personal meaning and makes you question your understanding of the world,” Science Daily reported, you might come out of the experience with new knowledge and a wider perspective.

“The adage used to be ‘with age comes wisdom,’ but that’s not really true. Generally, the people who had to work to sort things out after a difficult life event are the ones who arrived at new meaning.” —Dr. Carolyn Aldwin and study co-author

“The adage used to be ‘with age comes wisdom,’ but that’s not really true,” said study co-author Carolyn Aldwin, PhD, in the press release. “Generally, the people who had to work to sort things out after a difficult life event are the ones who arrived at new meaning.”

During the study, researchers conducted interviews with 50 adults aged 56 to 91 who had been through at least one major difficult event during their lifetime and asked them how they coped with the experience and how it changed their outlook or actions afterward. Participants’ answers showed three outcomes: 13 participants simply accepted what happened, 5 said it helped them “clarify a specific value or belief” they didn’t have before, and 32 said it “disrupted their personal meaning” and made them “reflect on themselves, their fundamental beliefs, and their understanding of the world.”

In addition, the person’s social environment (unsurprisingly) made an impact as well: Getting support from others during hard times—whether that means being held by a family member or seeking expert advice—influenced their development. For instance, receiving unsolicited emotional support helped with developing a deeper understanding of compassion and humility, according to the study authors.

So, the next time you’re going through something that completely shifts the course of your life, just know that despite how hard it feels in the moment, it could serve as a positive influence for your general perspective.

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