McGonigal shared a story of feeling depressed and suicidal as she was healing from a severe head injury. In an effort to get through her ordeal, she decided to turn it into a game, whereby she would collect points or ‘power-ups’ for doing simple things like getting out of bed and walking around the block. She invited others in her online community to play as well, and a number of people who were also undergoing some sort of trauma, such as a life-threatening illness, decided to join in.
She shared that this experience seemed to help those playing and that many reported dramatic improvements in their mood and outlook. She said there was some science behind this phenomenon, that it actually had a name: post traumatic growth.
Some people, she said, get stronger and happier after a traumatic event. At this point she had my full attention.
She went on to list the five things that people who have experienced post-traumatic growth say:
- My priorities have changed. I’m not afraid to do what make me happy
- I feel closer to my friends and family
- I understand myself better. I know who I really am now.
- I have a new sense of meaning and purpose in my life.
- I’m better able to focus on my goals and dreams.
I was quite stunned as I listened to her describe all this. You see, not three days earlier, I had put up my post entitled Why I Don’t Regret Any of It, in which I listed all the gifts I had gained as a result of undergoing trauma. And the list I put up mirrored the list above, in some cases almost verbatim.
Since then I have scoured the internet looking for more information on post-traumatic growth. There is not a lot of research on the subject, but what I found was fascinating.
There is so much emphasis and focus on post-traumatic stress. Indeed, it exists and is debilitating. I know that from my own experience and that of several of my friends. But I love the promise of potential inherent in the concept of post-traumatic growth. It suggests that trauma can be like a tsunami which rolls in and decimates the life we have built, but, when the wave subsides, leaves behind some unexpectedly beautiful gifts. And as we stand blinking on the shoreline, taking in the altered landscape, we need only look down at our feet and collect the gifts left in its wake.
I find this tremendously exciting.
I've included a link to McGonigal’s talk, if you'd like to watch it yourself. I’m still skeptical that gaming will help us achieve these benefits, but that’s my bias. You can chalk that up to my age.