Why 'Everything Happens For A Reason' Is A Moronic And Self-Serving Cop-Out

It's the comment divorcing reality stars and athletes dumped by their teams love to trot out: "Everything happens for a reason." I hate this sentiment. It's largely meaningless, it's moronic and it's nothing more than an excuse for avoiding responsibility and facing up to the facts.

Picture by Tropical Pete

This train thought popped unbidden into my head when I accidentally saw Kim Kardashian blathering about her ridiculous life on some dreadful breakfast TV show, but she's not the only guilty party. As a sentiment it's becoming all-pervasive in our culture. Throw it into Google News and you'll find athletes and singers trotting out this cliché with reckless abandon. We might not actively subscribe to religious belief, but we're perfectly happy to dismiss major events in our lives as being carefully orchestrated by unseen forces for our explicit personal benefit.

A friend of mine said "Everything happens for a reason" to me the other day while explaining why she had stayed with her alcoholic partner for so long. I try not to be a complete jerk all the time, so I didn't say: "Yes, and the reason is you were too scared/ignorant/smashed yourself to get out sooner". I don't know which reason is correct, but I suspect if she doesn't try to find out, she'll end up repeating the same mistake with the next bloke that comes along. In this context, "everything happens for a reason" is not helpful.

Working out the actual reason might be helpful, but this phrase seems to exist entirely as an excuse to avoid doing that. We don't need to know the reason, apparently; we just need to con ourselves into thinking that this unexpected event was predicted by someone. It's an ostrich sentiment, and very few people look good with their head concealed and their arse sticking into the air.

Blithely proclaiming that anything that happens to you is all part of some purposeful master plan (the details of which you don't profess to understand) in any way whatsoever doesn't make you look sage and self-aware. It makes you look stupid and self-indulgent. It makes you look unwilling to seek out or acknowledge your flaws. It makes you look ridiculous.

Yes, things will happen to you that you have no control over. And yes, sometimes finding out the reason won't give you any control over future events. We can't control everything that happens on a planet of seven billion people who constantly interact. But that makes it all the more important to seize the opportunities where we can take control, even if that means acknowledging our mistakes.

If there's a reason that something has happened, make it your business to find out that reason. At worst, you'll be better informed. At best, you'll avoid the same problem in the future. And either way, you won't come across sounding like someone who aspires to be Kim Kardashian.


Comments

    What the heck, I'm not used to reading such articles on Lifehacker. I'm more used to you know, Top 10 Tips on how to arrange your shoes.

    But I like it. And I agree with it:) You should vent more Angus

    Totally agree. "Everything happens for a reason" is complete BS.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EPR_paradox#Implications_for_quantum_mechanics

    "God works in mysterious ways".

      like in the children's wing of hospitals

      “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
      Then he is not omnipotent.
      Is he able, but not willing?
      Then he is malevolent.
      Is he both able and willing?
      Then whence cometh evil?
      Is he neither able nor willing?
      Then why call him God?”

    +1 common sense and objective thinking seems to be a poorly lacking skill. Sometimes people don't want to understand that many times things happen for NO reason. Uncertainty is what this universe is built on.

    Very much agree!

    I agree with Halario's sentiments: I was going to comment on "The Myth Of Complete Mac Security" piece of earlier this week (flamebait/linkbait that imparted no help or information), but this is a fantastic piece of introspection that could enable the reader to conduct the greatest life hack of all: have a good hard look at yourself! Bravo Angus.

    Everybody poops for a reason

      but shiting is not everything.

    Agreed. However, based on my experience with those spouting smug, ignorant New-Age crap/theistic superstition, the picture should really show someone with his head up his arse.

    now play "Penny's Song"

    keep you head up Billy buddy

    Excellent post, it's just a big shrug/cop-out.

    It also applies to things out of your control, I've never understood why people say "everything happens for a reason" after a bad event (particularly a death or disaster), it seems bizarre to me that people prefer "there is some larger unknown/unknowable plan that needed me/us/them to suffer at this point" to "the universe just happens, it doesn't care or plan for things"

    People have ideas and habits and self-images that they don't want to change. They'll use any excuse, make up any reason to preserve their ego-boundary. The last resort: "everything happens for a reason".

    Can't it be a coping mechanism? I mean I know I am one of the many who would internally roll their figurative eyes at the words "God works in mysterious ways", but as someone who is married to someone with incredibly bad luck and who is easily depressed I strongly believe that this statement is far from moronic if a little overused.

      you think "things happen for a reason" may be a coping mechanism, and yet you believe in "luck " ?

    Top vent, Angus.

    You forgot----> "Sh*t happens..."

      That's exactly the same sort of useless cop-out, but instead of just imagining a magical reason unknowable, you pretend there was no reason at all- either way you imagine it was out of your hands and there's nothing you could've done about it.

    Everything happens is arbitrary??

      +1

    Its a true statement if you mean the "reason" to be cause-and-effect, not some hocus-pocus sky boogeyman or some kind of fatalism or karma.
    Something happens because certain events produced it. If you find yourself being philosophical about the "why", its just that you dont understand all the variables.

      I like this explanation. When I think of EHFAR this way, looking for the things that caused an effect, I initially focus on any obvious mistakes I've made, but then get distracted philosophising about the motives and psychology behind the actions of all persons involved in whatever even I'm EHFARing.

    On the other hand, telling oneself "everything happens for a reason" can help one stop feeling sorry for oneself, and look for something constructive in an undesired situation. I tend to think of it more as "it is my responsibility to find something that will make me glad I am here and now, or to use this experience to learn to avoid this happening again." Breaking negative thought cycles is the first step in curing oneself of depression, and it's much healthier and more effective to accept a situation and then calmly look for a logical way to improve it than to get angry/mopey and feel sorry for oneself. Perhaps one would be more likely to remember a mistake if one was frustrated, but lot of people meditate too much on how they could have done things better anyway, and besides that, it doesn't discount the effectiveness of saying "everything happens for a reason" to control emotions and break negative thought cycles.

    Clearly I've been misinterpreting this statement for years, since I'd always thought it meant "so find out wtf happened, what caused it and look for opportunities to avoid this kind of sh*t in the futre" - and now you're telling me it doesn't mean this but it should?

    "everything happens for a reason" is the equivalent of people saying "it's god's blessing" when good things happen to them and "it's a test from God" when shit happens.....

    in other words...it's all BS

    take some responsiblity! And good article Angus

    Angus, don't watch breakfast tv. Who is Kim Kardashian? Doesn't she sell handbags?
    Helen, I think that is the perfect response to this statement. I always thought it was about looking for opportunities.

    Top article Angus . Although I highly suspect you watch the Kardashians more than you are let on ;)

    This is my favourite AK post to date.

    EHFAR makes my blood boil. Total rubbish.

    "Moronic and self-serving cop-out" Bitter, your table is ready...

    I actually like the statement "everything happens for a reason" on two fronts. As has been stated earlier, it is good to reflect and explore the dynamics that produce a particular phenomenon. Yes, randomness certainly exists - but in the course of human events, things are a lot less random than most people think.

    The other reason I like the statement is because, when I take the long view in my life, I can see how sequences of events have lead to particular decisions even when those events are seemingly unconnected. "The reason" is within me and the thread that brings meaning to those sequences.

    So yeah, using that statement as a cop-out to justify crap choices or crap events is whacked. But I personally find that yes, things do happen for a reason...Because of the way I interpret the individual events and how I interpret the chains of events I experience...

      I'm with you. I've always taken it as a way of turning a negative into a positive. Yes, something crap has happened, but I'm going to take that bad thing and use it as a springboard to the next better thing in my like. Then later on when I'm looking back I'll say "Hey, if that crap thing had never happened I wouldn't be in this great place I am today. Looks like EHFAR." Kind of like how many people tell you getting fired from a job was the best thing that ever happened to them because it made them go and get a better one.

    This is exactly what I've been thinking lately! If everything *does* happen for a reason then all of life's events are pre-planned, and there would be no reason to believe you could control your own fate. What fun is that?

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