We are continuing our exploration of happiness and philosophy today with a topic that cannot be addressed with science and data.
Why do bad things happen to good people?
This is a question that is asked often and one that is sometimes used as a suggestion that life is not fair
Seneca, who was a Roman Stoic philosopher, playwright, and politician had a different interpretation.
What Are Bad Things?
So why do bad things happen to good people?
They don’t, according to Seneca.
In his letter On Providence, Seneca addresses a friend who has asked why bad things happen to good people.
His answer challenges our meaning of “bad things.” In his words, “what seem to be evils are not actually such.”
Instead, those “bad things” are tools to make you into a better person.
Strength Through Adversity
“Without an antagonist prowess fades away,” Seneca tells us.
In exercise, you can only build muscle by putting your body under stress. The same goes for people.
The letter uses the example of athletes training for competition. They continue to face off against more talented opponents so that they can improve themselves. An NFL quarterback is going to improve more by facing off against a top notch defense than against a high school team.
You can only build your skills by facing off against other skilled opponents. In the same way, you can only build your mental and emotional strength by facing adversity. You can only achieve your full potential through being testing and facing obstacles.
“I account you unfortunate because you have never been unfortunate. You have passed through life without an adversary; no one can know your potentiality, not even you.”
Heroes Are Born of Adversity
Seneca cites to heroes who are only heroic because of their struggles. One example that he uses is Hercules.
Hercules became a hero in the ancient world for his completion of the twelve labors. Completing these difficult tasks would certainly be considered overcoming adversity.
But if you are only familiar with the Disney version of Hercules, then you may have missed the adversity that led him to those labors in the first place. Hercules, driven mad by the jealous goddess Hera, murdered his own wife and children. That’s some adversity. The labors were just his penance.
Modern heroes become heroes by overcoming adversity as well. Everyone from Harry Potter to Batman. Without facing unfortunate circumstances we do not become our best selves.
“Your good fortune is not to need good fortune.”
Most importantly, though, facing adversity teaches you how to be happy while dealing with adversity. If you have worked through adversity, you know that you can be happy and lead a good life regardless of what life throws at you. People who have not faced adversity are dependent upon continued good luck for their happiness.
Seneca says that people who appear happy, but have not faced adversity have “no solid and genuine happiness, but only a veneer, and a thin one.” These are people that will be rocked and set back by their first stroke of bad luck.
Meanwhile, by facing negative events in your life, you have trained yourself to withstand and overcome such events in the future.
So those “bad things” that happen to you are training you to live your best life, reach your full potential, and maybe even become a hero.
Maybe we ought to adjust our perceptions of adversity.
Join the Conversation!
What do you think? Is adversity an opportunity for growth or something to be avoided at all costs? What is your answer to why bad things happen to good people? Let us know in the comments!