The Psychology of Finding the Silver Lining

Finding something good in a bad situation is a common way of coping with adversity, as can be seen when we talk about clouds, silver linings, and the like.

It’s also a technique that has a decent amount of evidence to back it up from the psychology literature. Psychologists talk about benefit finding, or being able to discover hidden benefits in adverse circumstances.

Most commonly, benefit finding has been researched in the context of health conditions, the idea being that people cope better with medical problems when they’re able to find some unexpected benefit that arises from those problems.

To give just one example, a review of studies on the topic linked benefit finding to higher levels of posttraumatic growth among patients with cancer.

That said, finding benefits in adversity is a coping strategy that can apply not just in dealing with illness but with life more broadly.

A 2014 study looked at benefit finding as a way of coping with life stress in general and put forward several types of benefits that people commonly find in stressful situations. These include becoming more accepting, compassionate, adaptable or resilient as a person, developing stronger connections with others, and reevaluating one’s priorities in life.

In general, social support seems to help with finding benefits in otherwise negative life events, which helps explain why higher levels of extraversion apparently predispose people to benefit finding. Possibly for the same reason, extraversion has been linked to another coping strategy related to benefit finding: discovering a sense of meaning in adverse situations.

The benefits that a challenging situation can bring are particular to both the situation and the person in question. For that reason, coping by finding hidden benefits in specific situations is still as much an art as a science. But the science does tell us, overall, that benefit finding is a coping strategy that seems to work.

Image: Flickr/digitearte