Everything happens for a reason.

COVID-19, quarantine, and social distancing has dramatically changed day-to-day life for people worldwide. Many people lost their jobs, students are home from school, and the businesses that contribute to the normalcy of our lives are shut down. So where does that leave us?

For me, this means that for the first time in almost eight years my entire family is living under one roof. My grandma, my mom, my dad, my three brothers, and me. It definitely took some getting used to at first, but I’m beginning to realize what a treasure that alone is. What I’m trying to say, is that amidst the chaos, anxiety, and despair nearly defining this pandemic experience, look for treasure.

It’s not always easy though.

I remember the exact moment I realized how serious the situation was. I was sitting in an Airbnb in Puerto Rico with two of my close friends on our “senior spring break”. At first, I felt a wave of excitement: classes would be entirely online, which meant more free time. Yay! But this wave was soon overborn by nerves and fear. Three members of my immediate family are immunocompromised and my grandma just turned 77, making them all prime targets for coronavirus. And the uncertainty… Would our flights get cancelled? Would we be able to stay at school? What would this mean for our jobs? And most of all, how long would this last?

I tried to logic myself into feeling better about the situation. “Look on the bright side” I told myself. “You’ll have a lot more time for all those side projects you are always going on about”, “You’re healthy”, “Your family is healthy”, and the list goes on. I wish I could tell you that this worked, but anxiety definitely won that round. I couldn’t stop feeling frustrated. “Why did this have to happen now? And what am I going to do with myself?”

As the situation got worse and worse over the past few weeks, I kept reminding myself that everything happens for a reason. It’s cheesy, I know. And if you find yourself rolling your eyes, I challenge you to hear me out because I was right there with you. To be honest, it’s something I only started saying about a month ago, after I finished reading Oprah’s The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose. I realized that believing everything happens for a reason doesn’t have to be deterministic or religious; it’s just practical.

Despite taking many philosophy classes in my cognitive science studies, I’m one of those people who gets really frustrated with philosophy. What does it matter if I’m in a simulation or not - I’m going to continue my day-to-day life either way. And while I love letting my imagination run wild, when it comes to my core beliefs, I’m almost painfully pragmatic. So why should you believe that everything happens for a reason? Well, quite frankly it’s your best option…

A few years ago I came across the concept of “amor fati”. It’s a phrase in Stoic philosophy that literally translates to “love fate” and represents the idea that you should not only embrace everything that happens to you, but also love everything that happens to you. One step further than just “everything happens for a reason”, and yet I immediately fell in love with this concept. Here’s why:

Epictetus: “Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather wish that what happens happens the way it happens: then you will be happy.”

  • We can’t change what has already happened, so any effort placed into wishing for things to have happened differently is just a waste of time, energy, and willpower.

Marcus Aurelius: “A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything thrown into it.”

  • Since we can’t change what happened, we might as well make something [awesome] out of it.

Cheryl Strayed: “You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it…”

  • What happens to us is never going away. We might as well use it to grow and improve ourselves.

Robert Green: “Through Nietzsche I discovered amor fati. I just fell in love with the concept because the power that you can have in life of accepting your fate is so immense that it’s almost impossible to fathom. You feel that everything happens for a purpose, and that it is up to you to make that purpose something positive and active.”

  • Believing that everything happens for a reason makes us powerful. We’re no longer victims of the world, we’re the director, using whatever happens to us to realize our vision.

Ryan Holiday: “Yes, it’s a little unnatural to love things we never wanted to happen in the first place. But what other, worse adversities might this one be saving us from? What might we learn from this unchosen experience? What good, equally unexpected events might result from it? We know that in retrospect we often look back at difficult times fondly, almost wistfully, so we might as well feel that now.”

  • Challenging times are FILLED with learning opportunities, and often we don’t realize how helpful they are until way after the fact. I’m a big believer that the obstacle is the way, showing us the exact path forward that we should take. So why not appreciate it now? It’ll only make us feel better.

Ryan Holiday: “The power of amor fati is that it doesn’t waste time, as Nietzsche was saying, wishing things were different, looking backwards or forwards, or through the history books to find out if what’s happening to you is fair. It only looks at what’s happening with enough strength to say, “I have what it takes to make this good for me.” It spends nothing on bitterness or blame, and puts everything towards gratitude. And what comes from that is action. What comes from that is fuel.”

  • I used to just be a thinker. Ideas were my currency. But what did I do with all of those ideas? Nothing. I’ve since realized that actually doing things is the most valuable thing in the entire world. I’m not kidding. So if loving my fate is what I need to do to turn everything that I feel right now into action, then sign me up. I want all of my energy to go into doing things instead of just sitting around wondering what could’ve been.

So how I see it, there are three levels.

  • Level 1: No regrets.
  • Level 2: Everything happens for a reason.
  • Level 3: Love everything that happens. (Amor Fati)

At level one, we realize that every single moment leading up to now has made us the person we are today. Regretting anything that has already happened is just a waste of energy because what’s done is done.

At level two, we leverage the fact that believing everything happens for a reason gives us power. We have the ability to make that “reason” something positive and active.

At level three, we recognize that any negative feelings about what is happening are just absorbing energy that we could be using to take action, make a difference, and do things that we care about.

Each of these levels of thinking is exceptionally challenging, but equally rewarding. Every day I wake up and try to love my fate. And very often I fail and I find myself anxious and frustrated with the state of the world right now. But when that happens I just gently remind myself that everything happens for a reason. I remind myself that I might as well love my fate. I might as well spend my energy and attention on things that actually matter to me. Like anything, it takes a lot of practice to get better, but with every reminder my mindset grows a little bit stronger.

And so now, I want to take a moment to express how grateful I am for everything that I do have during this global crisis, and to ask that you join me in this unique opportunity we all have to practice loving and making the best out of everything that’s happening to us. Let’s get out there and go look for treasure. I would love to hear what you guys find.