I always used to hate this expression. It sounded like it was indicating that life was already planned out. I reject the idea that I don’t have the ability to influence my life story independent from everything else.

The expression is typically used after something bad happens as a way of justifying its occurrence.

Mother died? Everything happens for a reason.

Girlfriend broke up with you? Everything happens for a reason.

Got fired from your job? Everything happens for a reason.

Getting fired from your job might feel bad initially, but if you convince yourself that it happened for a reason, it is seen as part of a plan that will lead to something better rather than a stand-alone negative event.

Your mother died so that you could learn to deal with pain and become emotionally stronger.

Your girlfriend broke up with you so that you could understand how you act in relationships and improve.

You got fired from your job so that you could go on and do something better and more meaningful.

This is a helpful way of looking at bad situations, but it still doesn’t fit quite right with me. It confuses cause with effect. It makes it sound like the cause is “you need to learn how to deal with pain better,” and so the effect is “your mother dies.”

Your mother did not die so that you could learn to deal with pain better. Your mother died, and it happened for a reason that may have been unrelated to the benefit you will gain from it. Maybe the reason was cancer, or old age, or a car accident. Whatever the reason, it is separate from the effect which is an opportunity to learn how to better deal with emotional pain.

I look at this expression differently now and I’ve grown to like it. I use it not to console myself by pretending God or the universe is conspiring in my favor, but to trace events back to a cause, understand its relationship to effect, and use that knowledge to conspire in my own favor.

Girlfriend broke up with you? Everything happens for a reason. That happened for a reason. What was the actual reason she broke up with you? What could you have done differently to avoid it? How will you use that knowledge to improve your situation in your next relationship?

Each event is a cause and an effect, and each event has a cause and an effect. You can learn from both.