This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Happiness Hypothesis" by Jonathan Haidt. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Why can experiencing trauma in your teenage years actually lead to positive growth? Why do children and older people experience trauma differently?
Our teenage years are when our self-narratives begin to coalesce. That’s why some teenage trauma, if properly overcome, can build character and resilience. In comparison, childhood trauma can lead to a negative affective style and adult trauma can lead to struggle.
Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of overcoming teenage trauma.
The Benefits of Overcoming Adversity
Even though some measure of adversity can be beneficial for everyone, there are periods of an individual’s life during which she is less likely to derive lasting growth from it than others. We still have a moral obligation to minimize suffering, especially for children. All other things being equal, pain and trauma in childhood are more likely to lead to a child developing a negative affective style, which leads to worse emotional and physical health outcomes.
The story may be different, however, for teens. Our teenage years are the period in our lives when our self-narratives begin to truly coalesce and some of our most important life experiences take place. Events that happen during this time are those we revisit the most throughout the rest of our lives, serving as a constant point of self-reference. Accordingly, some teenage trauma and trauma in early adulthood years, if properly overcome, can provide a real character-building boost to people later in life.
Teenage Trauma Leads to Growth
The sociologist Glen Elder saw this in his studies of people who lived through traumas like the Great Depression and World War Two. People who were in their teens and early twenties at the time later reported finding a new purpose and sense of self as they overcame these hardships, whether it was through sacrificing to support their families through the depression or serving their country during the war.
But Elder found the opposite to be the case for people who first experienced trauma later in adulthood. By this life stage, the self-narrative had crystallized; people who had never experienced trauma and lacked a self-narrative rooted in empowerment were less resilient in the face of new hardships. Elder’s research showed that people who had their first brush with adversity when they were older were more likely to struggle to find new strengths in the face of these crises.
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- How your emotions determine how satisfied you are in life
- Why you need to struggle in order to succeed
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