Can Post-Traumatic Growth Overcome Post-Traumatic Stress?

Image via Shutterstock/Four Oaks

“A traumatic event doesn’t doom us to suffer indefinitely. Instead, we can use it as a springboard to unleash our best qualities and lead happier lives,” says Jane McGonigal, a world renowned designer of alternate reality games. She’s a gamer who has made video games her life; or more accurately, she made her life of video games.


Jane is an American game designer, and she is the director of games research and development at Institute for the Future. She’s petite, blond, curly, and totally kick-ass.

I met her on the internet. Ted introduced us. Ted is my daily lunch date.

See how I did that? I made it sound almost like these are real people in my life. That’s how I am; reality and virtual are thin lines in my head. It’s all truth from a tangible “person I met” once it’s inside my head. The deal is this: I watch or listen to a Ted Talk once a day. I usually watch while I’m eating lunch, and that’s where I met Jane. She gave an amazing, off-the-charts Ted Talk that left me spinning, thinking, and gaming in my head. (Go straight to the source. Meet Jane. She says it better than I’m about to.)

Jane was in a serious accident that caused a concussion, and the concussion didn’t heal properly. She was left with the inability to do anything of value, it seemed, and she was entertaining ideas of suicide over the path of healing. She had two choices: 1) die in this darkness, or 2) make this matter. She had me—hook, line, and sinker. I could totally relate.

Jane introduced me to the idea of Post-Traumatic Growth – the diametric comparison to Post-Traumatic Stress. Instead of crumbling under the stress of a trauma, some people get stronger and happier after a traumatic event. She says healing comes with four kinds of resilience: Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Social.


Physical resilience. Your body can recover from stress and heal itself faster.

Mental resilience. You can have more mental focus, more discipline, more determination, more will power.

Emotional resilience. You have the ability to provoke powerful, positive emotions like curiosity or love, when you need them most. If you can experience three positive emotions for every negative emotion over the course of an hour, a day, or a week, you can dramatically improve your health and your ability to tackle any problem you’re facing.

Social resilience. This is born from gratitude and physical touch, and it’s multiplied when you can combine the two by gathering strength from friends, family, neighbors, or community.

Next page: Four simple steps that can add ten years to your life. 

You can heal from a trauma by boosting these four kinds of resilience, and—even better—if you’re fortunate to skip the trauma, you can add ten years to your life by boosting your four types of resilience. I’m not necessarily interested in adding years to my life, because I’m pretty stoked about the one that I believe is waiting for me after this. But growth? Healing? Resilience? Tell me more, Jane. She says it is as easy as four simple steps. Feel free to try it now. (I did.)

  1. Stand up and take three steps. Or make your hands into fists and raise them over your head for five seconds.
  2. Snap your fingers exactly 50 times. Or count backward by 7 from 100-0. (100, 93, 83, so on).
  3. If you’re inside, find a window and look out. If you’re outside, find a window and look in. Or do a quick YouTube or Google image search for “baby [your favorite animal]”. (Pictures of baby elephants will seriously do something great to your brain.)
  4. Shake someone’s hand for six seconds. Or send someone a quick thank you by text, email, Facebook, or Twitter.

And that’s that. Access to the four elements of resilience, just like that.

Jane made a game out of it. SuperBetter.  It’s a game that gives gamers the ability to stay strong and optimistic in the face of life’s hardest obstacles. She’s changing people’s lives. She’s adding years to life—and life to years—by teaching the world to be super and better. She’s teaching trauma victims to claim Post-Traumatic Growth. Jane is on a humanitarian mission, and I believe it’s possible that her #1 goal in life could come true: to see a game developer win a Nobel Peace Prize.

People who experience Post-Traumatic Growth say things like,

“My priorities have changed. I’m not afraid to do what makes 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.”

Some people get stronger and happier after a traumatic event. A heart-wrenching tragedy can unlock our ability to lead a life of fewer regrets. It doesn’t mean the mother doesn’t grieve her babies and weep over each one she lost. It doesn’t mean the children don’t cry over the parent they lost. It doesn’t mean violence is erased and hearts don’t break. It doesn’t mean it didn’t matter. It means there can be life.

I absolutely dig this woman and her revolution. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to play.


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