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We all know the adage: what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger. In other words, adversity and bad things in our lives can strengthen us mentally, and overcoming these adversities can help us if another crisis comes along.
Is this really true? We love a comeback story. Somebody lost everything and somehow crawled out from under the mess and made something of him or herself again. These people often say they feel more powerful now, having overcome their disasters and had they not experienced them, they wouldn’t be as strong as they are today. But other people face catastrophic events and crumble under the stress. Unable to cope, they may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope or worse – suicide. So what decides who comes out stronger and who weakens under the weight of hard times?
New research from the University of Michigan that analyzed a total of 50 studies found that a single gene may be responsible for some overcoming peoples' ability to overcome adversity and others not faring so well. While other smaller studies have not come to the same conclusion, this large study suggests that our genetic makeup may be somewhat responsible. The UM study can be found in the January 3, 2011 publication of The Archives of General Psychiatry.
Another study showed that people who have faced adversity before are likely to be stronger if further hard times occur and they also reported a better sense of well-being that those who have never suffered. This study, from the University of California Irvine and the State University of Buffalo, involved 2,000 participants. Some had never suffered a traumatic incident (death, natural disaster, life-altering event), some had suffered between two and six traumatic events and the rest had suffered many catastrophic events. Very surprisingly, the participants who had never suffered did not feel particularly happier than those who had gone through up to 12 tragedies in their lives. Although generally happy with their lives, they did not report a better sense of inner peace or well-being than those who had suffered many traumatic events.