Making sense of and dealing with the challenges of life has been a foundation of religion and philosophy throughout history. The ancients referred to stress using terms like hardship, trial, tribulation, suffering, challenge, and opportunity; they tended to consider difficulty to be a natural part of life that affected everyone at all times, not a disease or an epidemic that only affected contemporary people.
The fundamental truth of Buddhism holds that life means suffering (Saunders, 1976). In other words, life is difficult. Suffering comes from attachment to transient desires. Suffering can be stopped by abandoning fleeting desires and following a path of self-improvement in mental development, ethical conduct, and wisdom. In Greece, Hippocrates proposed that disease is suffering and toil the body goes through as it fights to return to a normal state (Rosch, 1998). Stoic philosophy in ancient Greece argued that good people embrace the strengthening opportunities in hardship (Baltzly, 2009). Roman Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Translated 1844) would say, “No tree stands firm and sturdy if it is not buffeted by constant wind; the very stresses that cause it to stiffen and fix its roots firmly.” The New Testament offered a Christian perspective that also sees adversity as a natural part of life: people should not only expect to suffer but should also rejoice to share the sufferings of the Christ (1 Peter 4). Trials test, sanctify, and perfect the believer (James 1:2-4). Mormonism would seem to echo the fundamental truth of Buddhism by teaching that everyone, including the good person, experiences adversity throughout life. Adversity provides an experience that refines and strengthens the individual, creating opportunities for perpetual growth. Overcoming adversity requires recognizing and appreciating growth opportunities, exercising faith in God, and serving God by serving others (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2009).
Contrary to contemporary dogmas arguing that stress is a killer disease that must be eradicated, these philosophical and religious perspectives do not diminish the legitimate struggles people face. Instead, these perspectives seem to either influence or echo through early stress research and contemporary functional coping philosophies like resilience training, posttraumatic growth, inner-quality management, and others that will be presented as functional adaptability strategies.