Was Friedrich Nietzsche right when he proclaimed “What does not destroy me makes me stronger”?
His oft-quoted adage was put to the test as part of a US study of the effects of adverse life events on mental health by researchers at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York and the University of California, Irvine.
The study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that people who had experienced a few adverse events in their lives reported better mental health and well being than people with a history of frequent adversity and people with no history of misfortune.
The study, which included 2,398 participants ranging in age from 18 to 101, is part of a larger research effort started after September. 11, 2001 to test the notion of resilience – how successfully people adapt after exposure to stressful or potentially traumatic life events or circumstances.
Adversity, according to Dr Mark Seery, who co-authored the study, can help people develop a “psychological immune system” to help them cope with the slings and arrows that life throws, while those with no experience of adversity may have a hard time dealing with tough times.
At the same time, higher levels of adversity, the study found, can overtax coping skills and support networks, creating feelings of hopelessness and loss of control, disrupting the development of toughness and taking a toll on mental health and well-being. Under those circumstances, Dr Seery says, even the most minor hassles can seem overwhelming.
So everything in moderation huh?