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Everything Happens for a Reason

Finding the True Meaning of the Events in Our Lives


Updated September 16, 2004

everything happens for a reason
Why me? It’s a question most often filled with anguish or anger. It’s also a question that’s usually impossible to answer. Psychotherapist and author Mira Kirshenbaum, however, offers ten different and intriguing responses. In her new book Everything Happens for a Reason - Finding the True Meaning of the Events in Our Lives, Kirshenbaum explains that nothing is random. Every problem is actually a potential learning experience that can teach you how to live your life more effectively -- providing that you understand why the problem happened in the first place.

Kirshenbaum believes that each difficult issue is a specific opportunity to learn a key lesson about how to improve your life. Her goal is for you to learn how to eradicate life-crippling issues such as:

  • low expectations of what the world has to offer
  • little understanding of yourself
  • loss of faith in a higher power
  • lamenting a recent event or chronic condition
Kirshenbaum explains that the motivation to move forward comes from discerning the message behind your troubles. She bases her beliefs on 25 years of experience as a psychotherapist, as well as specific research. Kirshenbaum talked to hundreds of people, who explained how and why they were able to find meaning from a negative event in their lives – one that they originally considered random and meaningless. Through statistical analysis and ‘seat-of-the-pants analysis’, Kirshenbaum sorted the results and found connections and patterns, leading her to identify the ten possible reasons bad things happen.

Incidently, Krishenbaum is very qualified to make some of the statistically unquantified statements contained in this book. Her entire family, save her parents, were Holocaust victims. After living her first four years in a concentration camp, Kirshenbaum’s early years in America were spent in an emotionally broken and physically transient home. Though she had a difficult childhood, she stresses that her many experiences helped her understand that life presents opportunities to learn and improve your future. So she did just that.

Kirshenbaum points out that ultimately, there is only one underlying purpose for misfortune - to use what you learn to make you a better person in the future. She states:

The good that comes out of bad things that happen to you
is to help you become your best, most authentic self. Kirshenbaum cautions that being authentic is very difficult. Why? Because other things push us to behave in particular ways, even if they slow down or impede our personal development. She discusses how behaviors such as seeking approval, pursuing work and fulfilling relationship obligations can inhibit our quest for authenticity. She also advises how to cope with these realities.

In Part II of the book, Kirshenbaum offers ten self-contained chapters, one for each reason that bad things happen. Each chapter follows the same pattern, starting with introducing a universal problem, such as letting go of fear, radically accepting ourselves, becoming a truly good person, finding forgiveness, and discovering our mission. Through case studies and analogies, Kirshenbaum explains how each problem can manifest itself.. She then lists a number of diagnostic questions. If you answer yes to the majority of the list then you have discovered an underlying cause of a current (or recurring, or chronic) problem. The problem then serves as a catalyst to help you more deeply explore issues in your life. The diagnostic questions listed in each chapter will help you get to some important truths about your own situation, setting the stage for you to not only learn from these truths but to act on them.

For a specific example, consider Chapter 7, titled “ Solid Like a Rock.” It starts with the premise that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Answering ‘yes’ to diagnostic questions like, “Do you feel your ability to move forward into your future is blocked?’ may mean you lack a firm enough foundation and need to find a skill set or mind set that can’t be taken from you. Kirshenbaum advises how to take this diagnosis and create a plan of action.

Overall, Kirshenbaum is tackling some heavy issues. Not only does she focus on handling tragedy, but she urges readers to dig even deeper and deal with the core meaning-of-life themes. Yet, she is never overly pedantic or preachy. Her tone is ultimately positive, and message flows. She makes it easy to keep turning the pages by inserting insightful, poetically stated truths such as:

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