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Humans Are More Resilient Than You Think

We are living in an era in which Americans–especially younger ones–say they are increasingly traumatized. In one recent study, 82% of Gen Z respondents said they regularly felt so sad…

We are living in an era in which Americans–especially younger ones–say they are increasingly traumatized. In one recent study, 82% of Gen Z respondents said they regularly felt so sad that nothing could cheer them up. And that was before the pandemic. 

What is happening? Are things really worse now than they were for the generation that lived through the world wars? Or the Great Depression? And why does it feel–at least in some parts of the culture–that victimhood grants us status?

George Bonanno has thought deeply about these questions. He’s a clinical psychologist at Columbia University, where he heads the Loss, Trauma, and Emotions Lab, and he has studied the nature of human resilience for over 30 years. Bonanno’s work with war veterans, 9/11 survivors and more provides an antidote to the idea that humans are fragile or helpless in the face of loss, challenge and grief. Instead, Bonanno claims, when people are exposed to violent or life-threatening events, those events are only “potentially traumatic” and that “a good part of the rest of it is up to us.” 

His new book is called The End of Trauma: How the New Science of Resilience is Changing How We Think About PTSD.

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