Searching for Meaning? Look to Your Most Extreme Experiences


Between 2018 and 2020, my life was hit by a sequence of inauspicious experiences. My grandmother died, I underwent an unexpectedly troublesome shoulder surgical procedure, my mother and father acquired divorced and my father-in-law had a stroke. It felt like main challenges have been hitting me left and proper. Just a few months of calm would go by, after which bam, life would smack me proper again within the face.

Regardless of how attempting a few of these experiences have been, I discovered myself to be surprisingly calm, contemplative and resilient all through each one.  

The robust circumstances introduced my husband and I nearer. I grew extra emotionally than I ever had, which led me to make higher choices and shield my boundaries. Plus, I started pondering extra introspectively about life, which allowed me to attach extra deeply with my writing.

It seems my emotions are backed by science. A 2019 research revealed in The Journal of Optimistic Psychology discovered that in relation to making a significant life, the depth of an expertise issues greater than how constructive or detrimental it was.

This research tried to find out whether or not it wasn’t the valence of an expertise—that’s, how constructive or detrimental the expertise was—that mattered, however moderately the emotional extremity of it. The authors carried out three research, two of which requested contributors to fee a number of facets of a big life occasion: 

  • How significant an expertise was
  • How nice or painful the expertise was
  • How emotionally intense the expertise was
  • Social connection, or how a lot the expertise was shared with others
  • How a lot contemplation the occasion stimulated
  • How distinctive the expertise was to the person
  • Whether or not contributors thought destiny was concerned
  • How a lot private progress the occasion impressed

The researchers discovered that tremendously blissful and unhappy experiences have been equally as significant, and that extraordinarily emotional occasions have been extra important than milder, extra impartial ones.

“Notably painful and notably nice occasions might each be significant, partially, due to their shared tendency to be skilled as emotionally intense,” the research authors wrote.

In an try to raised perceive this conclusion, I requested myself the above questions relating to a serious occasion in my very own life: the current divorce of my mother and father. The occasion was painful, emotionally intense and traumatic—there’s little question. However, it was additionally significant in that it impressed a deeper connection between myself and my twin brother, compelled me to ponder how my childhood contributed to who I’m at this time, and impressed extra private progress than some other second in my life so far.

The divorce of my mother and father ranks excessive in essentially the most important moments of my life—proper subsequent to different main milestones like my marriage ceremony day. Though one was extremely constructive and one was very detrimental, I’d argue each have had an equally important contribution to my life story.

The authors concluded that in relation to the seek for which means in our personal lives, it’s greatest to check out essentially the most excessive experiences.

“We discovered that these commonalities might reveal a extra full and nuanced image about what determines the occasions we discover significant and memorable,” the research authors wrote. “Excessive occasions have been discovered extra significant, partially, due to their emotional depth, in addition to the contemplation they encourage.”

So what precisely does this all imply? As people, we’re all the time on the seek for which means in our lives. We craft a model of our life story that’s peppered with milestones, each detrimental and constructive. Though you may suppose constructive occasions matter most, detrimental ones are simply as essential.

Traumatic occasions will be troublesome to course of—many people bemoan the battle and surprise why me? However this analysis exhibits that regardless of how difficult traumatic occasions will be, they’re a vital part of a significant life.

This text was revealed in April 2020 and has been up to date. Photograph by Rido/Shutterstock


Jamie Friedlander is a contract author based mostly in Chicago and the previous options editor of SUCCESS journal. Her work has been revealed in The Lower, VICE, Inc., The Chicago Tribune and Enterprise Insider, amongst different publications. When she’s not writing, she will often be discovered ingesting matcha tea into extra, touring someplace new together with her husband or browsing Etsy late into the night time.


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