Do things happen for a reason?

Lately I’ve had a series of very interesting opportunities fall through and at one point I realized that after every disappointment I told myself that everything “happens for a reason” but does it? Or is this just a coping mechanism that my brain has devised in order to build resiliency over time and help me cope with negative outcomes?

The more I think about it the more I realize that there are two versions of “things happen for a reason.” The first one is postfactual and the second one prefactual. The postfactual version is precisely the one we initially stated “things happen for a reason.” This is a response to an event that has already occurred and the premise is a coping a mechanism to help us handle negative outcomes. The prefactual version is something along the lines of “if it’s meant to happen it will happen.” This is premise is also a way to handle negative outcomes but the individual states it before the actual event occurs.

I am more concerned with the former because it’s the one that I’ve experienced the most. Furthermore, the idea that “if it’s meant to happen it will happen” is not only silly but dangerous. It’s silly because we are giving ourselves permission to fail before we even do so. It’s dangerous because this deterministic view implies that we as individuals lack free will and that nothing that we do can change the outcome. Maybe I am being very naive but I like to think that I have some sense of agency as an individual.

Now going back to the phrase that we started with that “things happen for a reason” I understand why we use it as a coping mechanism but I think that in the long-run it can actually hurt us more than it helps us. If we tell ourselves that everything “happens for a reason” and stop there, then we are doing ourselves a disservice.

The Takeaway

Yes, things do happen for a reason and that reason can be explained. Negative outcomes should not be dismissed with the phrase “oh well everything happens for a reason” because it does not allow us to learn anything from negative outcomes. That’s insane! Negative outcomes should be taken as an opportunity to understand what went wrong and what could you change to improve your future outcomes. It’s a foolproof plan.

A note to my future self

If you want something you keep going for it. If you find yourself thinking “everything happens for a reason” then ask yourself “what reason?”. Get to the root cause of what caused the negative outcome and do something about it! If you can’t change it (e.g. the death of a loved one) understand that as unfortunate as they are these events will likely happen at some point during our lifetime. It’s part of the human experience.