Oh, come on!
Q: It's official: A new study concludes that experiencing a few "adverse life events" -- two to four, in fact -- really does make you stronger, and also more satisfied. People who sail through and those who face more frequent adversity usually don't fare as well. The researcher says that ''people are more resilient than we think." In your experience, have setbacks been a key to success? Have you ever had a setback you haven't been able to overcome?
To answer this one, I think we might need to apply some common sense that seems to be shockingly absent from this study. Put too many PhD's in one room, all drooling to get their white papers published, and their collective IQs actually seem to drop!
Based on the researcher's findings above, we should give our children some "adverse life events" to increase their chances of happiness. Maybe we should go with our kids to the middle school prom and slow dance with their least favorite teacher! Or, better yet, we could dismantle the brakes on their first car to give them some life experience! After all, don't our offspring deserve the best -- or the worst, I guess -- according to the new study?
As someone who has done real research, I get annoyed with studies that start with the desired result (like proving an old saying) and manipulate findings until the outcome is controversial enough to get some press. And why are two to four "adverse events" better than one or five? What is the repeatable scientific measuring tool for the amount and severity of personal challenges?
First of all, it is an indisputable fact, based on decades of deathbed confessions and interviews in prisons and rehab facilities, that if you have had a lot of horrible things happen to you, you believe your life sucks! No one says "The death of my children really gave my life meaning" and actually means it. People who have been deeply emotionally hurt in life have a tendency to tell researchers and the media that they are OK and then years later admit their emotional pain.
It is true that if you have never experienced tragedy in your life, you will probably handle your first one very badly. If you are 43 years old the first time the one you love says he or she loves another, you are likely to have a midlife crisis that may involve the police. That doesn't necessarily mean you will handle other adversities with the same disturbing reaction.
Your ability to cope is based on how you have interpreted what's happened to you, what you value most and your born-in mental mix, not simply the problems you did or did not have in your life.
Your kids who have moved back home after college because their self-esteem is so high that they don't need society's (or your) approval to be OK are going to have a harder road, it's true. If you don't have anything to prove, statistically you have less ambition.
However, how they react to a death in the family for example, is about more than what they have endured (like being cut off at the country club bar). It's based on their emotional make-up, which we know is to a large degree hereditary. So the reason you are so upset with your children is that they are dealing with some of the same stuff that you had to overcome, except you did it without a new car and a credit card.
I have dealt with some difficult things in my own life. That includes the nonstop travel of being a busy professional speaker, and dealing with my own personal quirks. I seem to be reasonably happy, but I still freak out when the dry cleaner presses my shirt so hard that I cut myself! If you can slice cheese with your shirt, I think its normal to lose some of your hard-fought resilience.
The big question is: Can you react horribly to the difficult situations in life and still be a helpful, productive person? I think it's kind of a wash, really. It's like crossbreeding Lassie with a pit bull -- you get a dog that will rip your leg off and then help you go find it!
Our life's work as humans is to handle our problems better than we used to. So if our physiological immune system is, in fact, low, it is because most of our problems are of our own making, not because of what did or did not happen to us.