A Load of Bright
An atheist's views on religion and the supernatural

Everything Happens for a Reason

If I had a penny for every time something bad has happened to me and someone has tried to comfort me with the words, “everything happens for a reason”, I’d be rich.

There seems to be an unspoken understanding in society, a consensus that the expected response to this luke-warm platitude is to nod sincerely, as if considering something deep and philosophical, smile and say, “thanks, you’re absolutely right”. Personally, when I’ve just had my third failed job interview in a row, a flat tyre or woken up to find I’ve bitten and broken my own tooth in my sleep, I’m not one to consider good form in my response to such phrases.

“What do you mean?”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“Yes, I heard you fine, but what do you mean?”

“Er, you know, just that everything, er, happens for a reason.”

“Yes, but what do you actually mean? Go into detail.”

I can sense genuine discomfort and confusion now. I’m not following the script. By now they should be feeling good for offering such profound comfort to a friend in need, they should be basking in the glory of my smiling, nodding acknowledgement of their well timed philosophical contribution.

Given the nature and theme of this blog, please don’t think I intend to attack or criticise people who use this phrase. On the contrary, the words have ‘liberal’ stamped all over them. They are always uttered with the best of intentions, and I always greatly appreciate the sentiments of anyone who takes the time and trouble to offer me support, whether I am in need of it or not.

However, the “everything happens for a reason” phrase is a perfect example of something that people accept and distribute without even really understanding it, let alone challenging it. When you really push someone to follow the logic and see where it takes them, they usually end up at one of three theories.

One, is that God moves in mysterious ways or has plans for us all that we don’t always understand.

Two, is some sort of Karma or fate, where good and bad always balance out in the end.

Three, is that nothing completely bad ever happens, there is always something good to take from it.

As it is nearly always liberals who use the phrase (true believers will always have something far more specific to their own belief system to offer), if you really press them you’ll find that they don’t really believe in either of the first two theories. They are both refuted with equal ease by the same indisputable fact – good things happen to good and bad people, just as bad things happen to good and bad people. There is no pattern, no consistency, and there is no evidence that anything equals out over time. Although we tend to notice groupings of good or bad things that happen to us (the three examples of bad things I gave at the beginning all happened to me in the space of two months, early last year), over the courses of our lives the patterns of fortune and misfortune that befall us are about as random as you can possibly get. If there is time to pursue a full rational discussion, I seldom meet much resistance in getting any reasonably liberal person to agree with this.

The third theory is slightly different in that it doesn’t really include a supernatural element, it is far more about interpretation. It is important to be clear about exactly what is being claimed here. I have never met anyone who believed that every event that happens is good overall, just that no matter how bad things are overall, there is always at least one positive element that can be taken from the situation, however small or insignificant it is in context with the larger picture.

It reminds me of a caption someone at my work has on a notice board over her desk: “Nobody is completely useless – if nothing else, you can always serve as a bad example.”

The truth of this third theory is down to the individual. I think if you want to find something good in a bad situation, you will do. The question is, is it really comforting to relate it to the bad event? For example, because my mother died when I was thirteen I undoubtedly have a closer relationship with my father than I would have done had my mother been alive. But I see no need to connect the two, I prefer to simply recognise the tragedy of my mother’s early demise for what it is and treasure the relationship I have with my father in its own right. To try and connect the two simply does a disservice to both.

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans I got a Church Newsletter through my letterbox. In his address, the local vicar lamented the tragedy but encouraged his readers to take great comfort from the fact that many people had “converted to Christianity in the aftermath”. Whether these people converting was a good thing or not is irrelevant here. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it was. Does this really make anyone feel any better at all about Hurricane Katrina and the horrific cost of human life it claimed?

In this context, “everything happens for a reason” amounts to nothing more than “every cloud has a sliver lining”. There is nothing wrong with hope and optimism, I revel in both, but trying to make sense of tragedy with weak compromises like this simply cheapens the efforts to repair the damage and recover. Rather than looking for a needle of hope in a haystack of despair, let us face the bad things that happen to us as they are, and feel the stronger for it once we have overcome them. Instead of trying to look for reasons why something bad might not be so bad after all, why not accept that bad things happen, do everything in our power to repair the damage, and then enjoy the truly good things in our lives in all their undiluted glory.


77 Responses to “Everything Happens for a Reason”

  1. I think people prefer “Everything Happens for a Reason” to “Everything is Pointless” (with apologies to the excellent blog of that name).

    Being the pattern recognition engines that we are, we try to put everything in terms of some meaningful pattern. It’s a similar mental cause as the confirmation bias. I’ve been looking into these these cognitive flaws lately. They hold something in common with logical fallacies, but the cognitive flaws operate at the subconscious level. I’ve heard them discussed as “heuristics” which allow us to boil down complex problems to something more manageable.

    The Wikipedia article on heuristics gives some great examples of these flaws, which seem to operate whether or not people are aware of them. So I think the “Everything Happens for a Reason” is encoded into our brains as a heuristic for unexplained actions.

    Also, Dennett has mentioned that a large evolutionary advantage accrued to those organisms who could ascribe higher-order intentionality to the actions of others. This then led to assuming intentionality to the forces of nature, which led to the formation of religions to appease the angry gods of nature.

    In a nutshell, “everything happens for a reason” seems to be encoded into our brains in some way, the same as Friendly Atheist just pointed out, many people in many cultures see special significance to patterns of digits. This is what I would call a hardware problem. Critical thinkers have just figured out a way to patch around the bug by supressing our “significance meter” unless we can actually establish causal relationships.

  2. Everything DOES happen for a reason, but not in the same way as they mean it. If someone gets shot, it happened for a reason. The shooter was insane and the person who was shot was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Simple rules of causality dictate that everything happens for a reason.

    But the phrase in question is never used like that is it? It implies some greater purpose. There’s no greater purpose. There is what we can see, and what we can truly understand. That’s really it. There are reasons for everything, but no greater reason than human intent and environmental conditions.

    • You made a good point, but your example was a poor one. If I break into your house to rob, rape and murder you, and you shoot me…well, that does not make you insane.

  3. What an ignorant expression, giving neither hope nor consolation, and attributing some thinking “instrument” to events. Fortunately, no one has ever said to me: “Everything happens for a reason.”

    I’m not sure of the reason for that.

  4. Ever since I admitted my atheism, I have been so careful in what I say. Either not saying silly phrases or replacing “god” with “science” or “nature”. I believe in karma, in a sense. If someone’s an asshole, eventually enough people will realize it and they’ll “get what they deserve”. Not by any force of energy in the sky or a man with a beard, but by nature and the evolution of actions and language.

    That phrase, though, “Everything happens for a reason” is incredibly dumb thing to say…especially when someone intends to imply a godliness behind it.

    I agree the Anonymous Atheist that “Everything DOES happen for a reason, but not in the same way as they mean it.”

  5. The logical conclusion of that statement is “If everything happens for a reason, then Man happened for a reason.” Unfortunately, if you start with a fallacious premise, you’ll end with a fallacious conclusion.

  6. Beautifully put. I’m a great believer in optimism, but sometimes it’s out of place; sometimes tragedy has to be taken pure.

    I think a phrase that acknowledged that events really only have the meaning we give them would be far better than a statement like “everything happens for a reason”, which implies that teleological reasons are fundamental to the universe rather than simply fundamental to the way we view things. But even then, we wouldn’t want to use it to force happy endings on everything.

  7. When my mother died two years ago, I heard this phrase many times from her religious friends. I thought at the time that it was pretty obvious what the reason was. She was almost ninety and ill. Then, five months later, when my eleven year old son died, these same people decided that my mother had died, so that my son would have someone to guide him when he died. And, of course, they felt that there was a reason for his death, although they didn’t go into what it was. The reason he died was because he contracted an infection and his spleen wasn’t working. How people can believe that a god would micromanage all of this is beyond me. I have no problem believing in the randomness of life. As a matter of fact, I find it comforting to think that there’s no reason for anything, other than the physical, rational and real reasons for things happening in the universe. It’s not personal. It just IS.

    Shine On,

  8. Nice point, Lill.

    I agree with you that it’s more comforting to know that the reasons are not guided by some super intellect, but simply happen for naturalistic reasons. The reason why I find it more comforting is that I no longer have to worry about whether some god will get it in his head to be arbitrary, and come up with a reason to do something horrific, like take your son at age 11, leaving us here wondering WTF the reason was. Survivors guilt stems from this type of thinking, because as survivors, expecially as parents, we wonder what it was WE did to displease god, and could we have altered our past behavior to guarantee a different result?

    Now we know better. That’s far more comforting.

  9. @ Lill,

    You make an excellent point and I agree entirely – I feel the same way about the losses I have had in my life. I can only imagine the pain you must have suffered losing your own child. I greatly admire your courage and strength of character.

  10. I’ve been on the receiving end of this phrase and it just pisses me off. It makes me sound like someone else’s pawn, like someone is toying with me. When I’m suffering, making me think that someone is toying with me is one of the last forms of “consolation” that should ever be given. The way I’ve described it, it’s not even consolation. I hate this phrase.

    Good blog entry. I’ve kind of been waiting for someone to take issue with this phrase. 🙂

  11. This blog was exactly what I needed to read tonight. I’ve never believed that “everything happens for a reason.” I do believe that as everything happens around us and to us, it’s up to each of us to grab hold and shape the results into something better. We’re the reason.

  12. I agree with the first writer, except that I find more conservatives than liberals use the phrase, as conservatives are more prone to religeon and superstition.

  13. It’s really comforting to see there are other people out there who think “everything happens for a reason” is a rediculously ignorant statement. I’ve always believed that things just happen. If there are reasons it is usually because of your own actions. Otherwise it is from others’ actions or because of natural cause and effect. For example, the love of my life wants nothing to do with me anymore. I feel like I could have done more during the relationship so that it would have never ended this way.

    However, I’m not sure if I could have chose to have done anything more or if it was fate that decided my actions. What I am sure about is that things happen, and “getting over” something shouldn’t entail being fake about anything. You need to take it as it lies and the only definite truth there is, is that shit happens.

  14. When I started reading this, I was starting to think that you were a very pessimistic person, but as I kept reading I realized that you really weren’t and started to agree with what you were saying. Sure, I use the phrase “Everything happens for a reason”. Why? Because I believe in cause and effect. All the relationships and friends I have had made me into a stronger person.

    Cause: New relationships and friendships

    Effect: A stronger person

    another example:

    Cause: I didn’t go to the school I was originally going to go to

    Effect: I became happier because of it.

    I am religious, but I don’t apply this phrase to God. It’s all cause in effect. I study, I get a good grade. He breaks up with me, I fall in love with someone else. Sure it all can look really bad, but using this phrase to make me hope for and look for the good in the situation, helps me get though it a lot easier then it I just stay with the bad stuff.

    There is randomness at points, but then there is things that are because of something else. There also doesn’t just have to be one effect, there can be many.

    It’s just something to think about. Perhaps it would be better to say “It’s all cause and effect”, but does that really sound as good as “Everything happens for a reason”? I don’t know, it just sounds better to say the latter.

    Just my grain of salt.

  15. I was thinking about how annoying the phrase “everything happens for a reason is” after hearing it way too much during a particularly bad week, and wondering why people say it and what it even means. I ended up here. Ah-ha! Everything happens for a reason – I ended up here for a reason.
    And how about when people say “I really believe that everything happens for a reason.” In other words, they’re not just repeating a trite expression – they really believe it. Well I don’t believe it. Everything just happens and you never know why and you just have to deal with it as best you can or you’ll be drowning in existential despair – which is a state I’m quite familiar with.

  16. Interesting discussion. What hasn’t come up yet is that circumstances seem to create opportunity for some things to happen and other not. It may be truer to say “Everything happens for many reasons” – not as useful as a fluffy reassurance to the berieved though 😉

  17. So much truth in this discussion.
    At first, I found optimism, comfort and relief from chronic low-grade depression in the Desiderata/Oprah philosophy that the Universe/God is good and everything happens as it should FOR A GOOD REASON–as opposed to the default setting I inherited: things happen for a bad reason. As I grow, though, I believe that things happen, good or bad. Cause is irrelevant. Intention is irrelevant (if my loved one dies in a car crash, does it really matter if the driver was willful, reckless or merely incompetent?). Things happen. You deal with them, as best you can. Enjoy the good stuff. Try to ease the damage of the bad stuff. Repeat as needed.

  18. The one thing we know that happens for a reason is why someone says everything happens for a reason. The reason is that person’s an idiot.

  19. “Everything happens for a reason.” Not so. This is simply the Modern Western Philosophical thought of Determinism. For more info, check the wikipedia article on this subject.

  20. Everything Happens for a REason ,, some examples from my life:

    1. We had an appointment and my son felt ill and I was trying to get him to still make the time, yet he said I really don’t feel good Mom and wanted to sleep it off, so eventually after parking on the side for a few turned around and went home, well turned out that the Lady we were to see wasn’t there that day.

    2. My Mother was in the Hospital and I went to visit her like every day then She said why are you coming so I stopped going, figured I’d leave her bee for a few days over the weekend,, I had an urge to call on MOnday and I called so Many times and finally my aunt answered and she said she’s not doing good, I should be there I said,, So I got there, she died that day, I got to be by her side.

    3. I stub my feet a lot sometimes, I think its when I just said something bad or had a “bad thought of some kind” to let me know I shouldnt be doing that..

    4. THere are lotz of examples I have but on the spot cant think of any more at the moment, but sometimes you dont’ know why until like days, months or weeks later and … well if your meant to know you;’ll just know,, till then “

  21. I am atheist. I believe in cause and effect, as well as that everything happens for a reason. There are just too many coincidences and wierd stuff going on in my life to simply ignore it. I believe that the whole universe works as a big machine, a big calculation based on a former “wave”, some energy that is not understood by men, and probably never will. If we perfectly understood the fundamentals of the workings of our universe, we would be able to predict everything. Like computers…we build them and master them, and can predict everything that they come up with. Computers can do a lot, and what they can’t do, we simply just don’t understand the workings of the universe to applie them to computers…

  22. I agree with those who said “everything does happen for a reason, but not in the way they mean it”. It’s possible that there might be an extra spiritual dimension and some things being “meant to be”, but most, if not all, is cause and effect.

    However, I don’t like the “shit happens, deal with it” approach either. It’s not only important to recognise cause and effect to avoid faking things and learn from our bad experiences, but also from the perspective of reducing the chances of them happening in the first place, and the wider goal of making the world a better place.

    Some causes of bad experiences can’t be helped, but others can- and if we address the ones that can be helped, it helps to reduce the likelihood of such bad things happening in the future and/or reduces their extent.

  23. Hey just went through this phrase with my son, we enjoy reasoning with each other and I pose the question to him true or false does “everthing happen for a reason”? I was working on a sermon entiltled “There may not be a reason but there is a cause” with the teaching points of the message being that if we know the causes of our camilities or triumphs we have the means to prevent or duplicate them—As a believer in God there may not be an explainable reason for everything that happens but if I were a betting man I’d bet 99% of the time you can trace everthing to a cause.

  24. People always say that our lives are predestined by god. I do not agree with this. Everything does not happen for a reason. God may be all knowing but he gave us free will, he knows every choice we can make at one moment in time, can see the out come of said choices, but he does not know what choice we will make. So the next time something bad happens to any of you, and you have someone saying it happened for a reason…think about what I said and you may realize that it happened just because it happened, not because it was predestined to.

    I went through a very tragic accident…I saved someones life during this accident. People say that’s the reason I lived…I say it was the choice I made at that moment.

    You can agree with me or not, that is your choice to make.

  25. Glad I stumbled on this discussion (but hey, that happened for a reason eh?). I do not subscribe to the ‘everything happens for a reason’ (EHFAR) view. (Ian G summed up that case perfectly!) The real issue is the painful prospect that things do not happen for a (knowable) reason. This is threatening, out of control, unpredictable etc. To reject the EHFAR proposition, you are not necessarily taking the position that ‘nothing happens for a reason’ (the evidence is clear on that one), but that not everything happens for a reason. This is an important logical distinction and makes room for unknowns and uncertainties. This can be manifested as: ‘there may be a reason but I don’t know it’, and ‘I believe there’s a reason, but it might not be correct.’ All of which leads to the question of the usefulness of EHFAR. Is the fact of a thing changed by there being a reason for it, and/or knowing that reason? I say no. No difference; except that drawing on EHFAR soothes anxiety or stress for some. For me, dismissing EHFAR is liberating because I judge the event, fact, outcome more for what it is than what caused it. What caused it may be very interesting, but it is fraught with illusion. So let’s get clear on this: the evidence for EHFAR is weak, but EHFAR is a very seductive story for those who feel anxious in an entropic world.

  26. I think the “reason” everything happens for is for you to become who you will become. Not because it is some predetermined mess that we are to little to understand. This is something that only in hindsight will you ever have even the slightest understanding as to how that event shapes your life. Sure to most it is just an empty statement that really just means “sucks to be you, hope you get less bummed soon so you’ll stop dragging me down” but does it have to be? We are each responsible for the mark we leave on the world. We make those marks by how we react to a circumstance that we encounter. So instead of seeing it as the empty, “sucks to be you” it could be a moment to decide how you will let misfortune form your life.

    Quick example: In college I had an all expense scholarship to go to Europe to make art (medium unimportant). Half way through the trip I broke my leg and spent several more weeks laid up in the hotel then was sent home early. Sucks. To that point in my life it was the most disappointing thing that happened to me. Something I achieved on my own merits was taken away by chance. But I was also a small town boy (563 people) who had very few life experiences. I found out at 18 if I had to I could get myself home with a broken leg from halfway around the world. I was more resourceful than I thought.

    When I came back my girlfriend dumped me. According to her I sabotaged myself on purpose. Huh? I learned she wasn’t worthy of my time and decided to have a nice romp with every girl I could find. There I learned girls like sex to and they are just as interested in friends with benefits as any guy. As long as you go into the relationship with that as an honest goal. Then I met my future wife. She was the best friend who stayed with me during all of this. And she still is my best friend after 18 years. The best thing that ever happened to me was breaking my leg in Europe and loosing this art scholarship. None of my life would have happened as it has if I didn’t. Not because I was destined for it to happen but because in a series of possibilities and events I chose ones that made my life better. I made everything happen for a reason.

  27. My uncle beat cancer, and 2 months later he got ingested by a carbine. It took 2 hours for what was left of him to die.

    Too bad the cancer didn’t kill him, it would have happened for a reason, and the constant morphine would have made it a lot easier than being chewed to death by a giant piece of farm machinery. SO fuck you.

  28. …reasons happen for everything. That is to say, people will fumble around to find some ‘reason’ for every arbitrary thing that happens. Life just is…

  29. If you think of the human experience as 3 axes – emotional, intellectual and spiritual, it can be difficult for those who are confine themselves to the 2 dimensions of emotion and intellect to percieve events which happen in the 3rd dimension of spirituality. One can choose a 2 dimensional life and be blissfully unaware of the depth of experience they are missing. Is it possible that the reason that we seek lies beyond this flat experience of the things our senses can perceive?

  30. I really feel no sympathy for anyone for any reason. To all of you who have had tragedy in your life.. Get over it! Life goes on to those of us who are still alive. Stop focusing on the tragedy and pain brought by death and focus on the joy that was brought by life. Do you feel as thought their life was cut short? Don’t. Their life was as long as it was and that’s it. Stop with your preconceived notions of your loved ones deserved a longer life. You’re just projecting your grief on their death. Find some closure and move past it. To you atheists, please stop contradicting yourself so boldly…”idont beleive in god,that’s dumb! I beleive in karma!” seriously? Are you that ridiculously bent on trying to evade the “norm” that you throw away normal logic jut to seem smarter? Pathetic. Break free from society and think for yourself! For your own sake, think for yourself! Get over your failed inhabitions and move toward where your life is moving, if it’s a pile of vascaline…jump head first. Everything happens for a reason. Each event builds us as people event if it’s a scar. Maybe you should all just stop living I’m your little pity party and see what you have left. I promise you it’s more than you think.

  31. I think that ‘everything happens for a reason’ is a fallacy but many people find comfort in it. For me, there is no reason, it just is.

  32. Actualy, ‘everything happens for a reason’ is not far off. But not in the god/faith sense. Everything indeed does happen for a reason – it’s just we don’t always know it and the reason is actually the end of a sequence of events

  33. I’ve had this near exact same thought lately — though you were much more verbose in your explanation of it. I rather got to the point a bit… quicker:

  34. People would like to believe that there is some higher “reason” for something to happen. An explanation as to why their life sucks now. I think this is to keep from feeling completely helpless in this world. However, it also implies that all you have to do is wait for your stroke of luck for things to go better than before. This is a dangerous notion, taken to heart far to often.

  35. So you don’t believe in causality? You failed your third job interview because you suck at interviews, or aren’t as qualified as the next guy. You got a flat tyre because they were worn thin and ready to go. You broke your tooth in your sleep because you have poor oral hygiene and gnash your teeth in your sleep.

  36. What you want people to be honest?

    You didn’t get the job because you weren’t qualified and your future outlook is very poor. Your an unpleasant person to be around and depress others with always trying to find fault in other people.

  37. […] The Just-World Theory I ran across a good article on this topic. Enjoy. Everything Happens for a Reason A Load of Bright Duke __________________ The big majority of Americans, who are comparatively well off, have […]

  38. I would have to side with those accused. There is another theory that is left unresolved. As an agnostic I would say that everything happens for a reason because of the events preceding whatever “everything” is.

  39. I just want to say I really enjoyed this well written article.

  40. What would you prefer they say instead?

    I’ve been handed my fare share of sympathy cards and I never know what to say. Any suggestions?

  41. This is exactly the sentiment behind the French satirist Voltaire’s book Candide. It’s a short read – I recommend it.

  42. Found this one on reddit and immediately bookmarked it.. I really like your point about people not really understanding it. I think its baseless to say everything happens for a reason and it doesn’t really comfort people up in my opinion. It just makes people feel more lost and because their friend said something happens for a reason, I think the sad dude would do more wrong by finding that “reason”

  43. I love all the points made here and I just wanted to throw my .02 cents: The recurring theme of most of the posters is that, in their time of grief and/or suffering, the statement (even if true) ISN’T COMFORTING!

    And isn’t that the intent of saying it? To help the person through their trying time? If it doesn’t work and all it accomplishes is to make the ‘sayer’ feel better about themselves, then the saying is useless – whether it is true or not. So let’s just agree to stop using it and come up with something better, something that actually makes the person suffering feel better about their life.

  44. “Things happen. Or, they do not.”
    — Terry Pratchett, *Nation*

    The above is paraphrased, but basically sums up the entire book. I recommend it to anyone having trouble dealing with grief and tragedy.

  45. I don’t think any of you really understand.

    “Everything happens for a reason” is said a lot not because it’s a common delusion but because it’s true. Life is not random and cruel. But it’s your choice to believe whether it is or not. If you believe it is not then your misery will grow. Everyone will die. But what you call physiological death is not the end of life. Life is eternal. Just because you can’t perceive a higher structure/order does not mean it is nonexistent.

  46. look at all the living and ask yourself why do we pity the dead?

  47. Usually when something bad just happened to you, you’re in a state of disbelief. The best thing is to just be left alone, unless someone is offering a complete solution to your problem, any piece of advice or words of consolation they may offer is bull and will only get you angrier.

  48. From a practical standpoint, I don’t buy into the “God has a plan for you” bullshit. However, I think you will find that people who revel in suffering and tragedy, are people who never quite succeed in life. By success, I mean achieving great things.

    You say that we should just take the bad and experience it, and not look for a silver lining. Then you say you are an “optimist”. Bad shit happens, people die, you don’t get the job you wanted, you get fired, your girlfriend cheats on you… its life.. however, if a person truly evaluates a situation, they may find that instead of blaming it on something outside of them (i.e., bad shit just happens), maybe, just maybe if they take responsibility for their actions and really looked at themselves, they might find that there is something within them that needs to be changed.

    You didn’t land 3 jobs, well maybe there was something you did wrong in the interview. You see, the cynic (i.e., you) will just chalk it up to sometimes things don’t go your way. However, the optimist and the person who believes they alone control their destiny will evaluate what they could have done better. They will use that negative experience as a way to expand their understanding or a way to enhance their skills.

  49. What do you mean by ‘liberal’? Go into detail .. (seriously, does ANYBODY know what they’re really saying when they apply this expression these days?)

  50. Almost as bad as “it is what it is”

  51. Interesting point of view and it has certainly stimulated my pondering the subject.

    Personally I do believe that everything happens for a reason, there is a lovely parable that describes my view on it- a farmer’s son broke his leg and the town’s folk said oh my what a terrible thing, the farmer shrugged, maybe it’s good maybe it’s bad, who knows? The next week the army came to conscript young men to the army to fight in the great war, the farmers son wasn’t taken to fight because of his broken leg. The story goes on.. a chain of events all seemingly awful, all having a blessing in after all.

    Anyway, this is not the point that I want to make, I think that using this phrase as a way to think it would comfort someone, or take away the pain of a situation or circumstance is not very likely.

    If someone I know has experienced a situation that they find painful or uncomfortable my policy is to listen to them, be with them- not to attempt to change the way they feel about the situation. My personal experience has been that if I accept the pain/uncomfortable feeling the quicker it passes. When people attempt to “cheer me up” my response is usually to get p****d off. There is nothing wrong with feeling pain – you can quote causality for that- if I prick my finger on a pin & break my skin I’ll bleed, if I experience a situation that is horrible to me – I’ll feel pain- I’m not broken, I don’t need fixed- feeling sad/hurt/angry are NORMAL responses to the situation.
    This brings me to a circle.. if we didn’t have pain as a result of experiences we’d just keep doing those things. The reason we feel pain is that circumstances happen that are not inside our desire. The pain is merely and idicator that we’d rather have something else and I see it as an opportunity to re-assess what I’m doing in my life to create the circumstances I find painful and then make new choices/ create new behaviours/ new values/ new beliefs.

    Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

    I love my life 🙂

  52. “Everything happens for a Reason” … now this sound so familiar. Priest and religious leaders say it. Depressed people over their relatives death say it. The concerned friend says it. Even the strangers whom you shared why your day is bad says it.

    But you know what I’ve always notice? They say it as if that REASON is always gonna be something good…. and this is the biggest lie in the world don’t you agree? Not that I’m some kind of a pessimistic person, but thinking that there’s always a good reason behind it often times give the people that “False Hope” that just makes their lives more miserable in the long run.

    Now I have to ask you guys, which one do you think is more logical… “Everything happens for a reason”, or “there is a reason why something happened?” … the first implies something more of a mystery, while the second one implies more of everything as a simple cause and effect.

  53. this phrase can be thought of dfferently depending on whoevers thinking about it..for me if something bad happens, and someone states “it’ll all get better”, like clearly i dont wanna hear that at the moment, but for some reason “everything happens for a reason” just brings comfort and beleif that there’s something better waiting for me..some things fall apart, so better things can come together.. at the moment of misfortune clearly you couldnt realize the fact that things happen for a reason, but i think as days, weeks, months, years pass you by, you’d start to realize how everything eventually falls into place..you think you’re in love with someone and depress yourself thinking life wont be the same, but as time goes by and you find your true love, you could look back at tthe earlier days and realize if you hadnt eexperienced what you’d experienced, you wouldnt have made the right choices to do things right this time..that’s just an example..but i mean a death of a loved one can have totallly different thoughts, because well no matter how long it’s been since they passed away, sometimes you can never find the true reason behind it, so the phrase i would say can only fit into some situations, and it all depends on you wanting to see the situaion positively or negatively..

  54. So how many people who have commented here have depression?

  55. Everything does happen for a reason. The sad thing is that we are not smart enough to know the reason.

  56. My daughter died of excruciating bone cancer a few months ago, and I was told “it happened for a reason”. Tonight I saw someone tell another person who also has a relative dying of bone cancer, “Everything happens for a reason”. I started shaking with anger.

    A reason? If your “reason” is that “God” has a hand in causing this kind of pain, then fuck your fucking higher power. If your “reason” is karma, then fuck you AND your fucking new age bullshit. All this phrase does is ring false and hollow, or worse, cause pain. It’s designed to make the speaker feel better, nothing more. And if I ever hear it again, directed towards me or anyone else in the throes of grief, I will be sorely tempted to harm them.

    But hey, at least it’ll happen for a reason.

  57. Everything happens for a reason, except everything else.


    Everything happens for a reason, accept everything else.

    Which one makes more sense to you?

    (I just came up with both of them.)

  58. I’m late to this but for posterity I’ll comment. I fucking hate this saying about as much as I hate any cliche. I find it absolutely useless, infuriating and actually diminishing and rude to someone’s pain.

    My response has become this “maybe, but that doesn’t make it fate, or divine.” They can take their supposed deeper purpose behind the event and shove it. Depending on the event being discussed, I usually have to further qualify my statement with something along the lines of “it happened because people are stupid and there is evil in the world” The Cliche Bearer doesn’t much like it but I don’t much care.

  59. My uncle once said that this is a common fall-back, cop-out answer when you have nothing to say. Presumptions….assertions…wild guesses and no proof at all.

  60. Why not just say, “We will make the best of things.” Things may or may not happen for a reason, but we will make life good in the future. We are programmed to try or fly. Maybe we make a bigger effort because of what happened, and therefore have a reason for things working out, but we will never know if things would have been better the other way.

  61. What brought me here? “Everything happens for a reason” (EHFAR) is a line in the movie “Dinner for Schmucks”, an enjoyable comedy film about mocking idiocy:

    “The one thing we know that happens for a reason is why someone says everything happens for a reason. The reason is that person’s an idiot.”
    ~ Ivan G.

    I was intrigued to hear this hollow and idiotic phrase crop up, for the umpteenth time, in another reflection of contemporary American culture – and thankfully that reason led me to this enlightening conversation. How uplifting to find spirited, truthful contributions with which I wholly agree, from the OP, BlackSun, Ozquonk, beth and teresa love (above). I’m in London, UK, and I’m pleased to say that this particular vapid Americanism doesn’t seem to have caught on here much (yet?). Still, IMO, there are some perspectives left undeveloped, so I thought I’d chip in my two cents too.

    A Reason
    “…reasons happen for everything. That is to say, people will fumble around to find some ‘reason’ for every arbitrary thing that happens.”
    ~ Bummina Bummina

    Well said, Bummina. Reason is a phenomenon of human consciousness, not an independent law of nature – or humankind is the measure of all things (as Protagoras had it in C5 BCE Greece). So “EHF a reason” is human scale narrative that creates a logically coherent cause-&-effect story comprehensible to a human mind. But EHFAR is a maladaptive projection of this all-too-human need for such evolutionarily adaptive explanatory stories out into an environment where oftentimes “things happen” which are inexplicably random and horrible.

    A Reason – Singular
    “What hasn’t come up yet is that circumstances seem to create opportunity for some things to happen and other not. It may be truer to say “Everything happens for many reasons”.”
    ~ Phoenix

    Very well put, Phoenix. In “The Science of Discworld III: Darwin’s Watch”, Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen develop the idea of “Steam Engine Time” to help illustrate how simple, single-threaded cause-&-effect stories comprehensible to a human mind are NOT an especially good way to comprehend the oftentimes multi-threaded complexity that underpins why “things happen”. In their example, the steam engine was, at that point in the time and space of human social development, an invention waiting to happen – given coal use expansion and availability, coal mine water pumping requirements, metallurgical understanding, metal-working capabilities, classical physics and mechanics, etc, &c. The quasi-comforting appeal of EHFAR is it’s allusion to the simplicity of a single-threaded story, when in reality there’s usually much more to be gained from comprehending the multiplicity of explanatory threads and their interactions, in all their multifactorial glory.

    Determinism & Uncertainty
    EHFAR depends upon the predictable certainty of a simple, single-threaded, human scale, logically coherent cause-&-effect story – or in general terms a deterministic Universe. But we know – from the proven time distortion effects of relativistic speeds and the dependable uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics – that our human scale intuitions of universal determinism are illusions that don’t actually match the fundamental fabric of reality. In simple lies-to-children terms, EHFAR emerges from consciousness, which emerges from brain physiology, which emerges from molecular biology, which emerges from organic chemistry, which emerges from classical physics, which emerges from quantum mechanics – where uncertainty is fundamental, ruling out simple deterministic cause-&-effect stories. All we can currently predict with accuracy are event probabilities, predicated on calculating a quantum mechanical “wave function” (whilst acknowledging that the current irreconcilability of relativity and quantum mechanics indicate an as-yet-incomplete understanding of reality).

    “I believe that the whole universe works as a big machine, a big calculation based on a former “wave”, some energy that is not understood by men, and probably never will. If we perfectly understood the fundamentals of the workings of our universe, we would be able to predict everything.”
    ~ Samuel

    IMO, that’s just human scale wishful thinking reasserting itself, through a longing for a return to the predictability of a deterministic, Newtonian, classical universe. While the “wave function of the Universe” is, in principle, a means to predicting the probabilities of our Universe’s various evolutions over time, its practical non-computability means we have to resolve ourselves to living in a fundamentally uncertain Universe. We are, of course, free to invent self-satisfying reasons (and will no doubt continue to do so), that work well enough for human minds at the human scale of space and time, but that’s just not how the fabric of reality actually unfolds through spacetime.

  62. The phrase is meaningless everyone who says it means it in a good way but everything that has happened to me ever that warrants someone to tell me that never any thing good comes out of it so I say “everyone says everything happens for a reason but thoes reasons usually suck and never end up good for the person your telling it to”

  63. well I believe,everything happens for the reason but you play very important role in whatever is happening,its little complicated but you know what I mean

  64. The phrase is meaningless everyone who says it means it in a good way but everything that has happened to me ever that warrants someone to tell me that never any thing good comes out of it so I say “everyone says everything happens for a reason but thoes reasons usually suck and never end up good for the person your telling it to”

  65. I feel like whenever I hear this phrase and people can’t back it up without repeating with “everything happens for a reason” or using another horribly vague expression “it is what it is,” it reminds me of when I was little and my mom would tell me no. When I asked her why, she’d just say “because I said so.” She may have said it because she didn’t feel like actually explaining why I couldn’t do something while others times she just didn’t know what to say because she couldn’t think of a good reason.

    I know it’s quite a generalized view of the whole debate, but in my head that’s what I keep going back to. It’s just something people say when they don’t feel like explaining something or when they don’t know what else to say.

  66. i successfully live my life one day at a time under the belief that “nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.” anyone/everyone else can believe in this or not… but it works for me and my relationship with my Higher Power.

  67. Everything happens for a reason, you may never know it or understand but when you really look at it with open mind maybe you’ll understand.
    Father is a construction worker, one day at work he had an accident and was ordered to rest and stay home. The family was sad no income for the following days. Then on the following days, the construction was bomb and many people died.
    For me, it is a clear example that God has a plan for the father that is my he had an accident. If you’ll ask me, how about the people to died what’s the “everything happens for a reason” there? well, I don’t know, only God knows why. You won’t be killed unless it is your time. There are instance when someone is shot in the feet and died, but there are others who are stub with scissors in the head but are still alive. you can never know, what’s ahead. No one can even explain the “miracles” not even science. who do you think work that?
    But I respect your opinions. We are all entitled to it.
    We’ll meet each other and everybody else in the end. And we’ll see which of us is correct.

  68. Wow. This blog has certainly gotten a lot of mileage. There is a reason for this…because many of us are sick of the lame phrase..I know I am. I typed in the words to the search bar in hopes of finding an intellectual way to respond to this phrase. Normally I respond by reminding person the reason for most things that happen are as a result of choices we make. Then there is also statistics, chance, timing. The phrase is most often offered as a response to negative events & is intended to provide some sort of comfort. How can comfort come by way of an insensitive phrase. For example my sister died in a car accident. The reason: she ran a red light & was not wearing a seat belt. Thats the reason. The fact that things happen “for a reason” is not comforting nor is it profound. It’s an idiotic response to a person in pain, disappointment or heartache.

  69. This blog is the very thing iv been preaching to my friends and family for years. Do people really belive that god is up there saying” hmmm…. i think im going to kill this person bc Bob up here is lonely.” No. nothing happens for a reason, things just happen.

  70. Cosmetic Lenses…

    […]Everything Happens for a Reason « A Load of Bright[…]…

  71. Just came across this, I guess the discussion has ended. But Thank You, all. I was also looking for some intelligent quips with which to answer this inane and smug saying. While they may mean well, people say it in such a thoughtless way that reasonable people need to speak up and answer it. Dear Jean, I’m with you. And Mimi, and others like you, knowing that your words may send a message of indifference and insensitivity to pain and suffering, maybe you can learn to use some discretion as to times when it might be best to keep your opinions to yourself.

  72. sounds to me that any one that has a comment needs a reason to be here…not in my book or HIS..we all have a voice and a choice…as I see it my God is fair and balanced and does not accept true sin on the part of us..if we can help it at the very least..we are all called to be perfect in the sight of God..so, what is our excuses?…I refrain…and take a different path that others choose to take..best regards..truly Yours….mpn…

  73. As a Buddhist I find myself in agreement with most of the sentiments here. Things most definately do happen for a reason, that reason is called ‘dependent origination’. Things arise in dependence on causes and conditions which are often highly complex. I read a friends Facebook post this morning in which she said that things are tough but everything will work out eventually because ‘everything happens for a reason’. The problem with this of course is that she may choose to sit out her problems and simply hope they go away. This inertia stikes me as being quite dangerous. We as human beings can shape our world to some extent and shape ourselves to a much greater extent but if things happen for a reason why make any effort? There is no conscious force dictating events outside of our own minds, no overarching plan for mankind. We can create our own experience which gives us personal responsibility to act positively.

  74. As a Christian Believer, I also …. Believe in Murphies Law, Karma, and or Fate or Luck and B.S. Sometimes in Life we will never figure out WHY or Just WHAT exactly is going on. It is a Mystery. It is B.S
    Life is Like a Box of Chocolate,… U never know what you will get.
    I don’t really know what I believe anymore.
    Ecclesiates 3 : 1

  75. Re the statement, all happens for a reason, and the following intelectual maze which followed…

    Get over it…

    “Sometimes, a cigar, is just a cigar.”

    Regardless of all these intelectual musings, such a statement or question cannot be answered with certainty, only belief. It is foray into an abyss of ‘mental masturbation,’ with no difinitive answer. Christian, or Buddhist, or whatever, must still apply their selves to one basic tennant; Live, be the fullness of who you are. Life is about action, hopefully right action. To speculate on whart cannot be answered, is a waste of precious creative energy. Does the fact I, a Zen and Taoist Priest matter in a real sense? No, not at all. Zen, ‘no mind,’ dictates to not be encumbered by the onward assualt of ‘mental gymnastics.’ To live, is to do, to action. To be at one, with / in the moment, brings us to clear vision; to see, and express truth, love, and compassion for all humanity. That means to release unnessessary mental stress. Here is teaser for you… What are the merits between thinking and thought? Hint: It is the same difference between intelect and Creation, or G/d… or is all just a a cosmic joke. (double hint), this brings us back to the merits of the original question.. And the answer is… “Sometimes, a cigar, is just a cigar.”


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