Everything happens for a reason
I would be surprised if Marilyn Monroe was the first to say that everything happens for a reason. This is apparently her take on things:
I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.
She certainly wasn’t the last to say it. I’ve just Googled everything happens for a reason and come up with over 800,000 hits. Admittedly a few of them could have been I’m not sure it’s true that EHFAR or there are those who think that EHFAR, but I doubt if they’re in the majority. EHFAR is after all one of happyology’s favourite mantras.
Now and again I have heard EHFAR described as a ‘useful lie’. But I don’t think it is even that. It doesn’t seem a particularly helpful thing to think.
The problem is that it can be confused with other, rather more reasonable, beliefs.
For example: every event has a cause.
I am not saying I think it’s true that every event has a cause, or that it’s not. But it could be true. If we knew for certain that it was true – or, conversely, we know for certain that it was not true – then we would know something quite profound about the universe.
The point for now is purely that reasons and causes are very different things. They can be confused though because both can be answers to ‘why?’-type questions.
Perhaps closer to the spirit of what EHFAR-believers may be after, there is the belief that we can learn from things that happen to us; and the related belief that it is a good thing to learn from things that happen to us. I have no problem with this kind of language.
We can translate all Marilyn’s examples:
When people change it can help you learn to let go. When things go wrong it helps you appreciate when things go right. If you find yourself believing enough lies you may eventually learn to trust no one but yourself. When good things fall apart it can sometimes be an opportunity for better things to fall together.
This may not read as cosy as the original, but it avoids the anthropomorphism. Why on earth should the animate and inanimate universe be organised the way it is so as to teach us things? Even more to the point, why should the animate and inanimate universe around me be organised the way it is so as to teach me things?
It is a short hop from here to the pernicious rationale that bad luck and suffering are inflicted on us as punishment.
Of course some things happen for a reason. And sometimes the reason (as in intention) and the cause are hard to separate – for example a baby being born because it was conceived.
But (luckily for babies) not everything is a baby. When things happen for no reason it helps us appreciate that we are not the centre of the universe. A useful thing to be reminded of.
© Chris Lawrence 2010.