Reasons To Be Cheerful

Extract from Learning from Wonderful Lives, by Dr Nick Baylis, Co-director of the Well-Being Institute at Cambridge University.

It’s not the troubles we run into, it’s what we do about them that determines their net affect on our lives. Just as a plane takes off most easily when facing into the wind, we can grow stronger and happier by facing up to and surmounting our problems.

Intrigued by those who can turn pain into opportunity, psychologists have identified at least two dimensions of our personality that can benefit from deeply troubled times.

The first is strength and determination of character. “You can draw energy from what has happened in your life, the tragedies and successes,” says gold medallist Cathy Freeman. “When you combine it all at the right moment, it propels you forward.”

The second possible outcome from hardship is development of a more helpful and satisfying life perspective. After her father’s death, Hillary Clinton said; “When our hearts are raw with grief, we are more vulnerable to hurt but also more open to new perceptions.”

Her insight is reinforced by studies showing half the men who survive a heart attack report beneficial effects on their values and philosophies and a decade later those same men are less likely to have had a second attack. This suggests that quality of life after recovery from physical or psychological problems can be higher than for those who have never been as ill. Is knowledge of misery our incentive to master happiness?

Of course, hardship is not the only producer of greatness: any intense experience – misery or joy – can provide the raw material for some fine things.

Copyright Dr Nick Baylis. Co-director of the Well-Being Institute, Cambridge University. Reprinted with permission. Learning from Wonderful Lives, Cambridge Well-Being Books, available from Amazon Books