Monday, December 1, 2008

post-traumatic growth: a reappraisal of trauma and adversity

In The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt, the author dedicates a chapter to the uses of adversity. His claim is that, instead of post-traumatic stress, an individual can actually achieve post-traumatic growth. This occurs in three ways:
  1. Rising to the challenge reveals hidden strengths and abilities and can change your self-concept. Appreciating one’s own strength can increase one’s confidence. People can also become inoccuous to future stress, and recover more quickly because they know how to cope.
  2. Adversity also filters out good relationships from bad ones, by sorting out those who are supportive or helpful. We usually feel love and gratitude for those who have cared for us in our time of need. Susan Nolen Hoeksema found that the most common effect of losing a loved one was greater appreciation of and tolerance for others in our lives.
  3. Trauma can also change priorities and philosophies toward the present, i.e. live life to the fullest.

Haidt claims that if the strong version of the adversity hypothesis is true, "people must endure adversity to grow" and "the highest levels of growth and development are only open to those who have faced and overcome great adversity" (141).

It goes like this: "When tragedy strikes, it knocks you off the treadmill and forces a decision: Hope back on and return to business as usual, or try something else?" (143). Apparently, this window of opportunity ranges from a few weeks to a few months--but the changes might stick.

Turns out, the nature of human trauma is irrelevant--what matters is what people do afterward.

I do have to say, the adversity hypothesis has undoubtedly held true in my own life, and I think I am a much happier and "better" (according to my standards) person for it.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

I will definitely have to check out this chapter/book - I like the message.