Why Bad Things Happen To Good People & How To Persevere

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“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Chances are you’ve asked yourself this question at some point in your life when it felt like nothing was going your way.

Whether it’s a religious belief, a belief in karma, or simply something your parents told you, we’re taught to believe that if we are so-called “good people,” good things will happen to us.

This is why, when your car breaks down for what feels like the tenth time this month or you’re diagnosed with a serious illness despite having been on your best, God-fearing behavior, it feels like a slap in the face.

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So why do good people suffer?

Rabbi Harold Kushner addresses this issue in “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” which questions why, if there is a God, would bad things happen to those following his will?

Kushner proposes the theory of theistic finitism, which suggests that evil exists because, despite being benevolent, God is not all-powerful and therefore can’t prevent bad things from happening.

But for those who crave an answer not based in religion, the sometimes hard-to-hear truth is that, as Yogi, Mystic, Bestselling Author, and Poet Sadhguru says, “there are no good people and bad people.”

As humans, we’re accustomed to labeling people. Man or woman, gay or straight, liberal or conservative.

Labeling people makes it easier for us to understand them, and we feel safer when we understand things.

However, as with most of these labels, no one is strictly one or the other.

For example, think of the TV series “Dexter.” At the outset, as a serial killer, Dexter is a “bad person.” But the line between good and bad blur when you realize that Dexter is a serial killer that only kills serial killers. 

Similarly, there’s “Breaking Bad,” where the main character Walter White becomes a notorious drug dealer, and you find yourself rooting for him over his “good” brother-in-law and DEA agent Hank.

What these two examples prove is that there are no objectively “good” and “bad” people.

“Everybody is oscillating between the two,” Sadhguru explains. “If you create a very pleasant, wonderful atmosphere, everybody behaves wonderfully. If you create an unpleasant atmosphere, a whole lot of people act nasty. There are joyful people and miserable people, but there are no good people and bad people.”

While that may make those who want to identify as being “good” feel somewhat hopeless, being able to shed those labels is actually freeing.

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Bad things don’t happen to good people because bad things don’t happen for a reason. Things just happen.

Though we’re conditioned to apply meaning to things that don’t necessarily have any, “nothing in life is a matter of fault,” whether good or bad, Cheri Huber writes in her book “Making a Change for Good.” 

“Happiness does not depend on circumstances,” she explains, “and life is always exactly as it is.”

Knowing this can help you avoid taking bad events personally. And when you’re not dwelling on the possible reasons why bad things happen to you, you can more easily work on overcoming them.

How to Overcome Bad Things & Setbacks

While it’s impossible to prevent bad things from happening to you no matter how “good” you are, you can certainly make unfavorable events easier to overcome.

1. Be kind to others. 

A 2011 study found that being kind to others makes you happier. 

During the study, researchers asked half of the participants to recall the last time they spent money on themselves, while the other half were asked to recall the last time they spent money on someone else. Both groups then rated how happy they were at the time they did so.

Researchers then gave all of the participants money and asked them to either spend it on themselves or on someone else. 

Researchers found that those participants who were asked to recall a time they bought something for someone else were happier than those who thought of a time they bought something for themselves. 

Further, those who remembered that past kindness were more likely to buy something for someone else over themselves, suggesting that “engaging in one kind deed (e.g., taking your mom to lunch) would make you happier, and the happier you feel, the more likely you are to do another kind act,” according to the study’s lead author Lara Aknin. 

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This suggests a “positive feedback loop” and a “potential path to sustainable happiness: prosocial spending increases happiness which in turn encourages prosocial spending.”

2. Be kind to yourself.

It’s important not to take bad things personally or blame yourself for anything that may be happening to you. A little self-compassion and self-love go a long way.

It’s equally important to keep your course and not let bad things change who you are at your core.

“Not having the courage to say ‘no’ to others can have a good person do bad things,” Success and Leadership Coach Christine Hourd explains. “When you constantly give in to other people’s demands and needs, your needs get pushed off the priority list. You’ve exhausted your willpower and have nothing left for your self-care. When you’re always giving, you feel taken advantage of and lash out.”

3. Focus on the good things.

Extensive research shows that gratitude makes you happier

“Practicing gratitude helps you feel more positive emotions, improves your health, helps you cope with difficult situations, helps you be resilient, helps you build strong relationships and helps you relish in the good things happening in your life,” among other things, writes Life Coach Susie Pettit

Approach each day being grateful for what you do have instead of zeroing in on what your life may be lacking in order to “routinely be in a more positive emotional state.”

4. Don’t give too much weight to negative thoughts.

Our brains have the tendency to lie to us, and too often we take a thought and perceive it as fact.

This means that if you spend your days wallowing in and believing all of the negative thoughts you’re having, you’ll start seeing everything that happens in your life through a lens of negativity.

It’s been proven that positive thoughts and emotions can make people more resilient and lead to higher life satisfaction, so it’s important to make an effort to achieve a more positive thought pattern.

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Micki Spollen is a YourTango editor, writer, and traveler. Follow her on Instagram and keep up with her travels on her website.