The Upside of Personal Tragedy

After painful life experiences we're more likely to appreciate life's little delights.
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(Photo: Andrey Burmakin/Shutterstock)

(Photo: Andrey Burmakin/Shutterstock)

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger—and also, apparently, more appreciative of life’s little pleasures.

We’re more likely to stop and smell the roses once we’ve already felt the prick of a thorn.

In the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, University of British Columbia psychologist Alyssa Croft describes a study of nearly 15,000 French adults. Those who had gone through painful life events, ranging from divorce to serious illness, were more likely to take time to appreciate transitory delights, such as gazing at a waterfall they happened upon while taking a hike.

This heightened ability to enjoy the moment (which is not shared by people still struggling with traumatic experiences) helps explain the phenomenon of “post-traumatic growth,” which we examined in our July/August 2013 issue.

It suggests we’re more likely to stop and smell the roses once we’ve already felt the prick of a thorn.

This post originally appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Pacific Standard as “The Upside of Personal Tragedy.” For more, subscribe to our print magazine.

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