It's Not Going to Be That Fun: Negative Experiences Can Add Meaning to Life

It's Not Going to Be That Fun: Negative Experiences Can Add Meaning to Life

By Kathleen D. Vohs, Jennifer Aaker, Rhia Catapano
April 2018Working Paper No. 3660

People seek to spend time in positive experiences, enjoying and savoring. Yet there is no escaping negative experiences, from the mundane (e.g., arguing) to the massive (e.g., death of a child). Might negative experiences confer a hidden benefit to well-being? We propose that they do, in the form of enhanced meaning in life. Research suggests that negative experiences can serve to boost meaning because they stimulate comprehension (understanding how the event fits into a broader narrative of the self, relationships, and the world), a known pillar of meaning in life. Findings on counterfactual thinking, reflecting on events’ implications, and encompassing experiences into broad-based accounts of one’s identity support the role of comprehension in contributing to life’s meaning from unwanted, unwelcome experiences.