Crises as opportunities: Corona, climate crisis and war: The search for meaning in difficult times

“You can also build something beautiful out of stones that are placed in your way,” said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once.

Crises as opportunities: Corona, climate crisis and war: The search for meaning in difficult times

“You can also build something beautiful out of stones that are placed in your way,” said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once. What Germany's famous poet wanted to tell us as early as the 18th century: in every challenge there is also an opportunity - or something like that.

We live in a time when there is certainly no shortage of crises. Climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and the Ukraine war are probably the most present, but not the only ones. If you look around the world, you can – to put it a bit exaggeratedly – ​​quickly get into an apocalyptic mood. One thought is quite widespread, especially among young people: the earth is on fire.

Various studies have shown that the younger generation between the ages of 14 and 29 is increasingly suffering from anxiety about the future, depression and stress. Experts also attribute this to the unmanageable world situation. How's the war going? Can I still get a pension? And what is actually happening to our planet?

All questions to which we have not yet found the answers. "It is completely justified and understandable to be afraid now," says Andreas Heinz, director of the clinic for psychiatry and psychotherapy at the Berlin Charité in an interview with "Web.de". But fear can also be a drive to make something productive out of the crisis. That would bring us back to the opportunity that is supposed to be in the crisis.

Admittedly, it is not only difficult to take advantage of social imbalances, but often also in personal misery. Who wants to think about how exactly this situation can help you in the middle of a marital war, shortly after losing your job or in an existential crisis? Daring thesis: as good as nobody.

Nevertheless, it happens that we continue to develop in difficult times. When everything around us crumbles, we are thrown back to the essentials. "Crises have the potential to show us what really matters, what should be preserved or strengthened," says Tatjana Schnell, a researcher of meaning at the University of Innsbruck, in an interview with stern.de.

She is convinced that the crises of our time make many people realize what really matters to them in life: “Where there is shadow, there is also light. The lockdown showed us the value of freedom, the Ukraine war is now showing us the value of democracy.” So crises are growth accelerators after all?

Not necessarily, says the researcher. There are many people who simply sit out crises. But if you tend to live your life actively and meaningfully anyway, you will be driven by challenges. "It may even be easier to find meaning in life in times of crisis," Schnell concludes.

In order to be able to find this meaning at all, we must first clarify what exactly constitutes a crisis. In an interview with the “Bayerischer Rundfunk”, the philosopher Nikil Mukerji from the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich identified three types of crises: life crises, individual crises and interpersonal crises.

The origin of all three forms is that something "subjectively unforeseen" causes damage, which in turn requires action. The word crisis comes from the Greek and literally means "difficult situation". This can either result from the loss of important resources, such as health, money or peace.

So how can a crisis become an opportunity? At first it can help us if we reflect on our resources and strengths. Knowing what we are capable of and which people and structures can give us security when we have the feeling that everything around us is collapsing - that is really worth its weight in gold.

Apart from that, we can check our own room for maneuver. For example, by examining what we can really change about the situation - and tackling it. In connection with the Ukraine war, for example, this could be donations, or perhaps a more sustainable way of life in the wake of the climate crisis. This strengthens our self-efficacy, which in turn makes us more resilient.

And what if everything seems pointless to you? Then that's fine for now. Even meaning researcher Tatjana Schnell says in an interview with stern.de: "Personally, I think there is a lot of senselessness in this world." Studies have even shown that it is unhealthy to look for a higher meaning in every situation in life. The same principle applies here as with toxic positivity: too much optimism can quickly backfire.

Dealing with crises in a healthy way is ultimately a subjective matter. Some are driven by the change to question their own lives - others just let the crisis pass by. However, according to Schnell, a researcher of meaning, we shouldn't walk through the world with blinders on: "It's always a tightrope walk between striving for a meaningful experience and the awareness that there are things that are meaningless, unfair or absurd - and that are better tackled than to reevaluate them positively.”

Source: Tatjana Schnell, a researcher of meaning, Stern Jugendstudie, Web.de, Artikel, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Artikel

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