Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

Chances are, you’ve heard the phrase, “everything happens for a reason.” And if you’ve heard it, it’s likely that you have a strong opinion about whether or not it’s true. Some people find comfort in believing in some greater purpose behind everything, while others think looking for order in the events of our universe is useless. 

For a long time, my feelings about this popular saying were strongly negative. To put it bluntly, I hated it. I would hear the words tossed around or see them printed on a piece of TJ Maxx wall art and wonder how anyone could possibly buy into the concept. I had one crucial problem with “everything happens for a reason” that I couldn’t get past. Like most of its critics, I refused to believe that there were reasons behind life’s hardships. 

Consistently, I pointed to examples in my life and in the lives of my friends that made me feel this way. Whenever I or someone close to me faced some form of loss or heartbreak, it was impossible to fathom any good reason why these bad things would happen.

But what took me a while to realize is this: the saying isn’t everything happens for a good reason. It’s just everything happens for a reason. It is about the order of the universe, not the fairness of it. 

My go-to counter-evidence against “everything happens for a reason” had always included things like hurtful breakups, my parents’ divorce, the sudden passing of my uncle, or the fact that two of my close friends have dealt with losing a parent. While it’s true that tragedies themselves don’t come with a good reason or a silver lining, they have opened up my life and the lives of people close to me to other experiences and opportunities for growth. But in the moment, it’s understandably difficult to see beyond the pain. 

My parents divorced when I was 8 years old. All I could focus on at the time was the separation of my family. My little brother and I had trouble sleeping in my dad’s new house, fostered a strange sense of guilt when “switching” from parent to parent, and were uncomfortable when our parents first started dating other people. But as the years passed, I watched my mom and dad become happier people and parents. Still, nothing was perfect, but unexpected things that wouldn’t have otherwise emerged made me very happy. For example, I met my stepsister, who is now one of my best friends and a person I can’t live without. Reflecting on the divorce now, a decade later, I can see that I am fortunate to still have an abundance of love in my family. I have accepted the fact that this love has simply taken a new shape. 

When I think of the times that I (or my family and friends) have dealt with the illness or passing of people close to us, it is easy to scoff at the phrase “everything happens for a reason.” Enduring or watching people I love endure anxiety, heartache, and grief never seemed reasonable to me. And it definitely wasn’t fair. But this is the sometimes unforgiving nature of the world we live in. It is inevitable that we will all face this sort of unjust sadness at some point in our lives. But from that injustice, patience and compassion can emerge. We can grow stronger in incredibly positive ways. Ways we wouldn’t have if we weren’t faced with that negative. 

Along with becoming stronger, we also become different. After being set on a new course in life because of certain events (even a tragedy), we will do new things and meet new people. During high school, a close friend of mine was faced with personal difficulties that eventually led to her transferring schools. The pain she was coping with alongside the daunting prospect of making all new friends was discouraging to her at the time. But now, she speaks so fondly of her high school friends, keeps polaroids of them pinned on her dorm wall, and even got a tattoo dedicated to them. The ink fittingly reads, “for a whole lot of bad, there’s a hell of a lot of good.” 

Part of living is braving the bad alongside the good. And while the bad may often seem frustratingly unreasonable, meaningful things can be drawn from it.

Still, this doesn’t fully answer the question, does everything happen for a reason? The way I see it, maybe the events of our lives are nothing more than a series of random coincidences. For a while, I thought this was the only possibility. But some things are just too strange and too strong to happen by chance. 

Everything that has happened to me thus far has guided me to the place I am and need to be today. From the minuscule things, like which exits I’ve taken on the highway, to more impactful moments, like the loss of someone close to me, I have lived and learned my way into my identity. I still am. And in your own unique way, that’s the case for you too. Nothing is perfect and nothing ever will be, but if you look back, there is great comfort in connecting the dots. You can’t connect them going forward, you must first learn enough to perceive the picture they form. Maybe it doesn’t look the way you expected or wanted, but it can still be beautiful. In that way, maybe everything does happen for a reason. The development of your identity and personal growth is as good a reason as any.


Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2 by Author