Going through bereavement or a divorce are some of the most difficult life challenges people may face. Painful experiences can yield an array of emotions, such as heartache, frustration, and even result in a few tears, but these bad days could have an eventual upside. People who have been exposed to hardships like death and divorce are more likely to be happier and enjoy life’s smaller pleasures, according to a recent study.
Facing hardships in life are known to improve a person’s gratefulness in its ability to highlight things that should not be taken for granted. In an essay adapted from "Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity," posted by the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center website, gratitude may provide a perspective that allows a person to view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances. It is in these times of uncertainty that people are made aware of how powerless they are in regards to controlling their destiny, believes Robert Emmons, author of the book.
Therefore, going through tough times serves as a reminder for people that everything they’ve counted on could be taken away, which makes it harder to take it for granted. Hardships help build resiliency and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Publishing in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, a team of researchers from the university of British Columbia and Barcelona School of Management, sought to examine whether exposure to life’s hardships affected their ability to enjoy positive experiences. The researchers utilized data obtained from nearly 15,000 adults who completed a vignette-based measure of "savoring" life.
The participants were first asked about their exposure to adverse events, such as going through a divorce or the death of a loved one, and to specify whether they felt they had emotionally dealt with the negative event of if they were still struggling with it. Six real-life positive scenarios, such as gazing at a waterfall or going on a hike, were shown to the participants as a means to measure their appreciation for life’s small pleasures.
Previously dealing with painful experiences was found to facilitate the ability to enjoy short-lived pleasures in the participants. Dealing with more adversity in the past enhanced the capacity for life savoring. "Thus, the worst experiences in life may come with an eventual upside, by promoting the ability to appreciate life’s small pleasures," wrote Alyssa Croft and her team of researchers, The Huffington Post reports.
However, participants who were currently struggling with divorce or were in the midst of mourning a loss were less likely to appreciate life’s small pleasures. Their ability to find joy in simple, everyday things was just found to worsen by the actual hardship. The findings of the study do hold promise for the participants who were still going through the hardship, as their ability to appreciate the small things in life will increase as time goes on.
According to Action for Happiness, a movement of people committed to building a happier society, people who are grateful tend to be happier, healthier, and more fulfilled. Gratefulness can even serve as a coping mechanism for stress and can even have a beneficial effect on heart rate. Feeling gratitude and hope shapes how a person feels psychologically and socially. It has the ability to increase the emotion felt by the person while it decreases negative emotion, which contributes to overall life satisfaction and creates a positive outlook.
For tips on how to get the benefit of a gratitude habit, click here.
Croft A, Dunn EW, and Quoidbach J. From Tribulations to Appreciation: Experiencing Adversity in the Past Predicts Greater Savoring in the Present. Social Psychological and Personality Science. 2013.