The Happiness Hypothesis and Adversity | Shine Your Light In Your Darkroom | 3 benefits of adversity

The Happiness Hypothesis and Adversity
Image courtesy of NEOM from Unsplash:

When we suffer, we build endurance. Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope.

Bible, Romans 5:3-4

The Happiness Hypothesis and Adversity

Do you want to be happy? How about happier? In this article, I share my thoughts on this book this book called The Happiness Hypothesis and how we can gain from experiences with adversity. The book was written in 2006 by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.

For decades, research in health psychology focused on stress and its damaging effects. A major concern in this research literature has always been resilience—the ways people cope with adversity, fend off damage, and “bounce back” to normal functioning. But it’s only in the last fifteen years that researchers have gone beyond resilience and begun to focus on the benefits of severe stress. These benefits are sometimes referred to collectively as “posttraumatic growth,” in direct contrast to posttraumatic stress disorder.

Jonathan Haidt, from The Happiness Hypothesis

He adds, “Researchers have now studied people facing many kinds of adversity, … Researchers have studied how people cope with the loss of their strongest attachments: children, spouses or partners, and parents. This large body of research shows that although traumas, crises, and tragedies come in a thousand forms, people benefit from them in three primary ways…”

Adversity Reveals Your Hidden Abilities

… rising to a challenge reveals your hidden abilities, and seeing these abilities changes your self-concept. None of us knows what we are really capable of enduring.

Jonathan Haidt, from The Happiness Hypothesis

The first benefit of adversity is that it reveals your hidden abilities. Bereavement, the loss of loved ones, is one of the biggest breakers of human beings. We think and say that we won’t survive if we lose somebody or something. Nowadays, it even extends to parasocial relationships (that’s another topic altogether). But in reality, we realize we are stronger than that, or we actually come out stronger than before. This allows us to cope and even claim victory over the challenges that we eventually face.

“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” It is usually true for most of us. We are inoculated against problems we would previously falter to; we are made immune to them, brushing them off just like “pfft”. If and when we fall to these issues, we recover faster. “ezpz”, as we say.

In his book The Adversity Advantage, Paul Stoltz writes that it is “one of the most potent forces in life. It shapes your character, clarifies your priorities, and defines your path. It can also fuel your greatness.” The book was written together with Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 2001. Wait, “blind”, “reach summit”… Those words don’t really belong in one sentence but he made it so. Steven R. Covey quotes Dr. Viktor Frankl in his foreword to this book,

Between stimulus and response, there is a space.

In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.

In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.

Dr. Viktor Frankl
The Happiness Hypothesis and Adversity
When faced with something like this, we need to think and ask

I paired that quote with this beautiful photo by NEOM from Unsplashed because it just hits that well. Steven adds, “Those chosen responses will govern your growth and happiness. In fact, they will govern your achievements and contributions.” When faced with challenges, do we choose to become victims? Or do we learn to cope, triumph, or even crush and treasure these moments? Recently, it’s becoming a norm to avoid stressors and challenges. “Why bother?”

I would like to give a special mention to video games; “competitive” titles in particular even if it’s self-competition like high scores. Ranked matches, tournaments, leaderboards, min-maxing, and the elusive set of “achievements”… I have always been a proponent of the mental and psychological benefits of video games as long as we have the right attitude and mindset during play. Actually, it goes for any game, not just video games. I have never seen anybody play a game with the goal of coming out worse in the end. This is an excellent mindset to have in any endeavor.

But “in real life”, Steven sighs, “How ironic that what enables us to grow and experience joy in life is the very thing we avoid.” The point of this is not to become masochists; actively seeking things which harm us, but to embrace these challenges and adversities with that oh-so-sweet gameface.

It is 2024. I cannot help but feel my heart crushed when I see news on road rage, social media involving a couple aiming posts at each other, and sometimes even simple “light” ultra-regular ranting like a complaint-jackhammer on steroids. I admit, I was able to write that previous sentence because I often fall to them. Unnecessary anger on the road, reading social media posts and comments from people I am never going to meet, and complaining about things I cannot do anything about. Steven put it so beautifully: “See love as a verb rather than a feeling. Stop criticizing, finding fault, and blaming; instead serve, listen, and anticipate.”

Maybe it’s just me and the way I interpret this song, but Wonderwall by Oasis hits differently for me, particularly the verses: “Today is gonna be the day that they’re gonna throw it back to you. And by now, you should’ve somehow realised what you gotta do.” And then Noel Gallagher pulls the reverse card in the second verse of the song: “Today was gonna be the day, but they’ll never throw it back to you. And by now, you should’ve somehow realised what you’re not to do.

To me, the first verse speaks of an experience where you learn through a mistake; one where you acknowledge your wrongdoing due to an incoming punishment, whether it arrives or not. And through this experience, there is remorse and you take steps to reverse what you did if you can; to take it back. I see the second verse as the very definition of grace. Mercy is punishment that is not delivered on a deserving person. Grace, on the other hand, is a reward or benefit that is given to someone who is not deserving. We rarely see grace these days, don’t we? It’s usually just associated to a religious teaching or something now.

Speaking of religious, I’d like to end my point how adversity can be a PB-generator (personal best) with this quote:

When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

Bible, James 1:2-4

Adversity is A Filter

The second benefit of adversity is one that I think a lot of us subconsciously desire: it is a filter. Ah, social media. Oh, no. Wrong topic. But it isn’t. It’s so on-point. Ever asked yourself if you’d do something just to know who your true friends are? Or even if you’d do something to gain true friends? At this point, this fact is so basic, common, and much-needed nowadays that it almost feels like I’m being condescending trying to explain this. It’s just that sometimes we have to open our eyes and our minds to realize this.

When we post about the good stuff, when we win at something, or when we win some THING, we find that we are more popular than we ought to be. The opposite is also true but I’ll summarize: when we’re going through something or at least we want to talk about something serious and heavy, we usually lose a lot of these same people. As much as I am tempted to, there’s no benefit in being cynical or sarcastic about this point because it’s a painful one for those of us who have experienced this.

… adversity doesn’t just separate fair-weather friends from the true; it strengthens relationships and opens peoples’ hearts to one another. We often develop love for those we care for, and we usually feel love and gratitude toward those who cared for us in a time of need.

Jonathan Haidt, from The Happiness Hypothesis

Writing about this benefit of adversity feels redundant and unnecessary because I feel like every one of us has already experienced a “day of filter”, where our friends list or network goes through a zombie apocalypse. Well, except maybe if you’re younger than 12 or 13 years old? But even so, pretty sure you’ve had yours. When these things do happen, we know that the people who stick with us are the people we can trust. This digs even deeper if we’ve had people who helped us in any way without expecting or getting any benefit from us. I’m not including people who help us to get on our good side to get something like a relationship with us.

I know this is a debatable topic, I’d like to make a case about relationships born from online games. These happen for a reason. I refer to MMOs in particular. Doing raids together, farming, putting up 24/7 shops, struggling to look for that rare item, looking for buyers, and so on. People often go through so many challenges together in these types of games that it binds them, sometimes even in ways that is impossible in real life, and also at a pace that real life cannot match. It’s kind of an off-topic (and possibly outdated) matter that I may write about some time. If ever I do, it’s one that’s due since 2002.

Ragnarok Online Marriage System Promotional Wallpaper
Yeah, they turned this into reality in 2003

Trauma Changes Priorities

The happiness hypothesis states that the third benefit of adversity is one we oftentimes struggle with: letting go. Jonathan Haidt writes, “Trauma changes priorities and philosophies toward the present (“Live each day to the fullest”) and toward other people.”

Those of us who have had a life-threatening experience, we know that this changes us with a wake-up call that’s almost equivalent to a Matrix-slow-motion car accident or a $400,000 raid from Mr. Beast. Jonathan Haidt puts it excellently:

A diagnosis of cancer is often described as, in retrospect, a wake-up call, a reality check, a turning point. Many people consider changing careers or reducing the time they spend at work. The reality that people often wake up to is that life is a gift they have been taking for granted, and that people matter more than money.

Jonathan Haidt, from The Happiness Hypothesis

When we encounter life-changing experiences, we are forced to make choices: to let go of those which aren’t helping or even the ones that brought us to ruin, or to keep the ones that matter.

I remember this beautiful movie titled The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, and Keala Settle. I mention all of their names not only because they are the main cast but because they portray characters who had these experiences. I will not argue fact from fiction with my point about this movie, but adversity was so beautifully written in this movie that it even spilled behind the scenes.

Stand your ground
Beautiful photo by Boban Simonovski at

Adversity is an attacker. We are instructed, usually by ourselves, to defend our territory; to persevere. We are not to surrender an inch of our territory. Our task is not to advance, but to defend until the attack is over. We achieve victory when the attack ceases and we are safe. Many times, the moment we choose to overcompensate is usually the impetus of our defeat. Defense is a mode which is difficult to maintain especially if there is an opportunity to turn that defense into offense. Let’s not gamify our mental health.

In the end, I am DEFINITELY not saying this is easy. That’s why it’s called “adversity”, for crying out loud. Often, it even seems impossible. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune”. A quick search for synonyms resulted in “misfortune”, “tragedy”, and “hardship”. Go figure. My entire plea in this article is for us to extend ourselves to love other people and to exercise grace. We can only do this if we turn ourselves into the first beneficiaries by embracing adversity.

You can read my other thoughts here:

You can check out Jonathan Haidt’s excellent The Happiness Hypothesis here: and Paul Stoltz’s The Adversity Advantage here: Please note that I do not earn any commissions or any of that sort. I just want to share these resources.

Credits to NEOM from Unsplash for the featured image I used in this post and to Boban Simonovski for the beautiful photo of the fortress in the last paragraphs

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