Reflect on the different ways your life could have gone. Believing that the way things did work out was “meant to be” and appreciating the benefits of that journey both can add a deeper feeling of meaning to your life.
Four experiments explored whether 2 uniquely human characteristics—counterfactual thinking (imagining alternatives to the past) and the fundamental drive to create meaning in life—are causally related. Rather than implying a random quality to life, the authors hypothesized and found that counterfactual thinking heightens the meaningfulness of key life experiences. Reflecting on alternative pathways to pivotal turning points even produced greater meaning than directly reflecting on the meaning of the event itself. Fate perceptions (“it was meant to be”) and benefit-finding (recognition of positive consequences) were identified as independent causal links between counterfactual thinking and the construction of meaning. Through counterfactual reflection, the upsides to reality are identified, a belief in fate emerges, and ultimately more meaning is derived from important life events.
Source: “From what might have been to what must have been: Counterfactual thinking creates meaning.” from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology – Vol 97, Iss 5
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