The September 11 attacks were supposed to change everything about daily life. Our airport experiences were certainly transformed, as we all know from walking beltless and shoeless through security lines, but within three years of 9/11, the airline industry set a record high for passengers, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. While we collectively work to prevent similar tragedies from happening again, we also discover that our desire to explore the world is stronger than our fear.
Trauma can even be transformative. Most people are familiar with post-traumatic stress, but the more common reaction is post-traumatic growth (PTG), when people thrive after enduring a negative life-changing event, according to Thalida Arpawong, a faculty member in the Resilience Lab at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. In one study, more than half of trauma survivors said they felt stronger after their experience and had gained a new appreciation for life. In another, survivors of traumatic injuries (primarily from car accidents) viewed their struggles as “a springboard for growth.” PTG can spur people to reconsider priorities, improve relationships, and take bold actions, such as traveling abroad or changing careers. After disasters such as the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri, and the 2017 fires in Paradise, California, some survivors found that their pain provided new perspective on what’s important.