Great good can come from great suffering, right? Most of us believe this in theory, but when faced with tragedy, suffering and fear—such as in the time of COVID-19— we lose sight of the big picture. But Helen Keller, no stranger to adversity, kept this posttraumatic-growth concept firmly in mind, saying, “Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
As the Coronavirus pandemic has grown more dire, infecting and sickening more than one million people and putting our lives and livelihoods on pause, it’s easy to drown in a tsunami of despair and uncertainty and wonder what the hell is happening to humanity.
But research shows that challenging life crises can give birth to a renaissance of enlightenment, creativity and innovation. People who have suffered great loss go through a period of searching for and creating meaning in the aftermath of a traumatic event, according to psychologist Richard G. Tedeschi of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Crises such as this global pandemic can give rise to “an increased appreciation for life in general, more meaningful personal relationships, an increased sense of personal strength, changed priorities, and a richer existential and spiritual life,” Richard says.
History overflows with instances of exceptional humans who accomplished great feats after much suffering:
- The famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo survived polio, miscarriages and a traffic accident to create world self-portraits that illustrate passion and pain with bold colors and rocketed her to world fame.
- German composer Johann Sebastian Bach overcame being orphaned and losing 10 of his 20 children to create the Brandenburg Concerto, the benchmark of Baroque music.
- The Scottish poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson was bedridden and battled a chronic depression before penning the landmark coming-of-age novel Treasure Island.