Benefits of Adversity

2013-1116 Broken Rope on WristAccording to Laura Landro, who wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal, Friedrich Nietzsche’s oft-quoted adage, “what does not destroy me, makes me stronger” was “put to the test as part of a national study of the effects of adverse life events on mental health.” The study was created, implemented, and reported by researchers at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York, and the University of California, Irvine.

2013-1116 broken-chainLandro tells us the study found that “people who had experienced a few adverse events in their lives reported better mental health and well-being than people who had a history of frequent adversity and people who had no history of misfortune.” The study included 2,398 participants ranging in age from 18 to 101.

Mark Seery, a researcher at the Department of Psychology at the University at Buffalo who co-authored the study, says “many studies have focused on personal characteristics or social resources that promote resilience. But the potential benefits of exposure to some adversity, relative to no adversity, have received less attention.” Dr. Seery adds that adversity can help people develop a “psychological immune system” to cope with the challenges of life, while people with no experience of adversity may have a difficult time dealing with tough times.

The study also found that higher levels of adversity can create feelings of hopelessness and loss of control, both of which could take a heavy toll on mental health and overall well-being. According to Dr. Seery, people who experienced “around two to four adverse events in their lifetimes appeared” to be better off than people who experienced five or more significant adverse events.

Your Turn

  • How many adverse events have affected you during your life?
  • When did an adverse situation most recently affect you?
  • How did you react to the situation?
  • What reaction would have been more beneficial?
  • How does the severity of an adversity factor into the findings?
  • What could (or can) others do to help you?
  • How can you help others who are experiencing an adverse situation?


Click here to read another Beyond Adversity post.


Thanks to Wendy for sharing the article upon which this post is based, Laura Landro for writing the article, The Wall Street Journal for publishing the article, and all the other people who directly or indirectly made it possible for me to use the picture and text I included in this post.


  1. Scott, I remember you from reading your story. Jack Crawford pinged me about this particular post. Studies make a wonderful baseline. I believe, each person unique in their abilities, character an overall makeup. One major adversity may prove to be too much for one person while ten may not be the tipping point for another. Something else to consider is intensity adversity. And then add in how that affects one person vs. another.

    Take you for example. You represent a minority of people. I know my statement is subjective; however, the amount of people speaking and writing about their adversities is far fewer than the survivors.

    My faith is what makes me stronger, not what I have survived. Without belief in “something,” what do we have to hope in?

    I was born in the projects to an abusive father. I built a wonderful life with an amazing wife and children. I nearly dies twice, had a stroke, lost one business to two trusted employees who committed fraud, and I could go on and count more than ten.

    Jack tagged me, “to a few wonderful positive thinkers.” According to the study, I should should be hopeless. In my opinion, it comes down to each individual, the unique “something” that defies metrics.

    Thanks for sharing you and your story as I am sure it will propel many to a hopeful future.

    1. Gary, I definitely agree with you that each person is unique in their abilities, character, and overall makeup. I especially like what you said about adversity — what is a tolerable level of adversity for one person may be considerably more adversity than another person can handle. This brings up a major concern I have about many medical practices and many school — they cater to the average not the individual. Although there are many topics that concern the general population, there are also many topics that must be customized for a specific person.

      You are obviously correct in that there are far fewer speakers and writers than survivors. To some degree, I don’t see that as the important issue. The problem, as I see it, is that new survivors and caregivers don’t know people like me are willing to talk, share, and help. Rather than learn from the experiences of others, new survivors and caregiver “reinvent the wheel” or create square wheels.

      I don’t think the study suggests you should be hopeless. What the study appears to suggest is that the results pertain to those people who experienced fewer adversities than you. The researchers excluded people like you and me because our complex situations are too complicated for their study. You and I are happy for reasons that cannot be explained in the study.

      Thank you for taking the time to provide such a detailed comment.

  2. Hey Scott,

    I believe that I qualify for at least four adverse events in my life (I’ll be 55 next month). Hmmm let me see … Leukemia, death of a spouse, brain tumor, stroke.

    I think that I’ve had my fair share of adversity but I’ve also had a generous helping of great events that I’ve experienced as well that seem to have more than offset the adverse events. I think that’s what keeps me going.

    I do agree with with the premise: those adverse events have made me stronger. I can truly say that I’m a happy man.


    1. Norm,

      You definitely “qualify.” Based on your description, I’d say the article was written about you. I am sorry to hear that you experienced so much adversity. However, each adversity helped you become a stronger, happier, more confident, and more appreciative person. You successfully and repeatedly converted adversity into a benefit. You are proof that it is possible to “beat” adversity. My guess is that you are now grateful about many aspects of your life and you are an excellent role model to others who face adversity. Adversity made you who you are today.

      Thank you for taking the time to share your comments. I very much appreciate your feedback.


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