There are two aspects to this. One is that in general it is healthy to live in a way which is meaningful for you, that is consistent with your values and that makes sense. Psychologists use the expression “cognitive dissonance” to describe the stress that is generated by carrying out an activity which is contradictory to our values. The other is that finding your own internal motivation can be the key to moving forward in your in life (click on the word to explore motivation in greater depth). This can be even more important for people who are recovering from deeply distressing and traumatic experiences. Many people comment that life changing experiences change their priorities in life, that they no longer “sweat the small stuff”. Bereavement counsellors advise against making life changing decisions in the first year after a significant loss, although it may be a good time to consider and reflect.
Doing something which is meaningful to you, especially if it improves the life of someone else, has a multitude of beneficial effects. It helps people to feel good generally, but boosts people’s sense of their own worth as well. Conversely, retirement seems to have a non-beneficial, perhaps even harmful effect on those who take it, as reported in the Harvard Business Review. This article also highlights the importance of continuing to learn throughout our lives for our wellbeing: https://hbr.org/2016/04/why-retirement-is-a-flawed-concept.
Many of us experience cognitive dissonance when we ‘put on a happy face’ for our employers or customers, but this can be felt more keenly by people who are recovering from trauma, who may find that a previously satisfying occupation no longer has any meaning for them, or that they no longer have the emotional energy to ‘keep up appearances’.
Personal tragedy and disaster often give rise to taking stock and reflecting on life’s journey so far. Occasionally people believe that they were only able to recover because they changed everything about their life. Laurence Gonzales, in his book ‘Surviving Survival’ describes Kathy, who was physically devastated by treatment for cancer which had metastasised into her bones and brain, travelled to India, learned Hindi and adopted the local culture to the extent that the dress code and way of walking of Westerners became alien to her. Kathy was diagnosed in 1988 and somehow lived on until 2012. It is difficult of course to say that leaving her previous life and language behind is what enabled her to live so long, but it does seem clear that when she left America she was dying.
In 2014 Psychology Today published an article entitled “Super Survival of the Fittest” which included a number of stories of individuals who changed their lives after traumatic experiences. The authors believe that these changes are what brought about their remarkable recovery, “that it’s possible to peer into the face of tragedy and somehow emerge fundamentally changed, with an ability to affect the world in previously unimaginable ways”. The title implies that resilience is extraordinary, however most specialists agree that it is not. Most people are capable of inspiring resilience.
The full article is still available via the following link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201407/super-survival-the-fittest
There is a great deal of research evidence amassed over many years demonstrating that altruistic behaviour (doing something for someone else’s benefit) makes people feel good and makes people feel better about themselves. Perhaps when we are recovering from traumatic events, and feeling horrible becomes the new normal, every small way that we can make ourselves feel better, and take on less of an emotional burden, takes on a far greater value.
 L.Gonzales “Surviving Survival” W. W. Norton & Company 2012. Pages 145-153 and page 224. ISBN13: 9780393346633
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Managing emotions or the willingness to learn