"We are far more resilient than we give each other credit for," says Dr. Samantha Boardman, founder of the website Positive Prescription and assistant attending psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. And the research proves it.
Beginning in the '90s, some psychologists finally started turning their focus away from dysfunction to study its good-twin opposite: how people cope. By some estimates, at least half the population has gone through some kind of real trauma. (And let's assume by September or so, that could be a lot more of us.) And yet, writes John Tierney, co-author of the new book, "The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It," 4 out of 5 trauma victims did not suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. "And in the long run, they typically emerged stronger. Instead of being permanently scarred, they underwent post-traumatic growth."
The reason most of us haven't heard of this positive turn of events, Tierney added in a phone chat, is because good news never gets the kind of attention bad news gets. (That's a big theme in his book — that the brain, Twitter and cable TV love bad news and ignore most of the good.) Anyway, this growth doesn't mean trauma is something you should seek out, like probiotic Greek yogurt, because it's so healthy. Trauma is truly, hmm, what is the word?
But psychologists have seen people coming out the other end with an "increased appreciation of life, deeper relationships with others, new perspectives and priorities (and) greater personal strength," Tierney writes.
And even in the meantime, while we're still in the midst of this miserable thing, I've been hearing from parents who are kind of stunned to see their kids not only coping but almost unfolding like a new shoot watered by the unexpected gift of the virus: free time.
"My daughter is almost 12, and my son is 9. They've been off school since March 12," a mom in Canada told me. "I was expecting a lot of bickering and crabbiness, and there's been a little bit, but not nearly as much as I expected." Instead, her son spontaneously took a kite out to fly the other day — for the first time in his life — and his sister, who normally goes to bed at 11 p.m. and has to get up at 7 a.m., is still going to bed at 11 p.m. but now getting up at 11 in the morning.
That seems to mean the girl needed four more hours of sleep than she was getting before. More sleep is making her — and everyone around her — calmer.
Meagan Heryet, a fundraiser in Oregon City, Oregon, has an 8-year-old daughter who is normally, Megan says, "a disaster. She's a hoarder; she's an artist; there's trash everywhere; there's no laundry basket. But since we've been home — no prodding from me — she just decided it was important for her bedroom to stay clean." The girl is making her bed every day. Strange but true.
And Stephanie Gillespie's son, age 14 and normally not too keen on school projects, "all of a sudden decided that there's all these things he wants to pursue." Top of the list? Building a computer.
Dark are these days, but there is light at the end of the tunnel — and some surprisingly cool light shows inside the tunnel, too.