It’s counter-intuitive: Why would combat veterans who risk their lives repeatedly, experience gruesome events and witness their fellow service members die be happy that they went to war?
And yet that’s exactly what Marine veteran John Walters reflects on in a new post on LinkedIn that has gone viral. Tens of thousands of readers have shared the piece, titled “6 Reasons I’m Happier Because I Went to War.” Many of them say they also served in the military and relate to what he shared.
The post was first published last week. Walters, a marketing manager with Shell, wrote that he has been asked regularly whether he is glad he deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, and usually surprises people when he tells them that the answer, enthusiastically, is yes.
“Naturally wartime and combat are associated with sadness and devastation,” wrote Walters, who left the Marine Corps as a sergeant. “War affects millions of innocent people and [post-traumatic stress disorder] afflicts service men and women with crippling effects. I’m not immune to all the negative fallout of being a Marine during wartime, but many lessons I learned as a Marine make me a happier person.”
Walters went on to share six reasons that is the case, including that war honed his sense of humor when dealing with tough situations and taught him not to be materialistic.
“After living on the desert floor for a year with no more personal belongings than would fit in a small backpack I learned to make do without a lot of ‘stuff’,” he wrote. “The experience helped me to understand the happiness in austerity.”
Reaction online from other veterans has been laudatory. Consider the following:
Couldn’t have said it better myself: ‘6 Reasons I’m Happier Because I Went to War’ http://t.co/DEHMRvQWIw
— Robert Tregaskes (@robtregaskes) September 26, 2014
Good read, I found my deployment stressful and a bit depressing at times, but I definitely agree with the points lai…http://t.co/Ssc0LDJ8gA
— Jeremy Lash (@jezlash) September 29, 2014
— Geoffrey Ingersoll (@GPIngersoll) September 29, 2014
The last tweet references post-traumatic growth, a term psychologists coined to acknowledge positive change in an individual after they go through crisis or trauma. It has been connected with military service frequently, and is far more common than PTSD, said Richard Tedeschi, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, in a 2012 New York Times article.
A white paper for the Naval Center for Combat and Operational Stress Control states that not all mental health professional recognize PTG as legitimate, but adds that some do and “current findings suggest there may be clinical utility for the concept.”
The concept of post-traumatic growth is still in the early stages of being defined and investigated, but preliminary evidence suggests that personality style and coping mechanisms may play a significant role,” says the white paper, by Jenna Van Slyke. “While it may seem paradoxical, the life-altering negative effects of trauma can often be a catalyst for positive changes as trauma survivors attempt to rebuild their lives and worldviews after the event.”
That’s not to say everyone sharing Walters’ work has experienced post-traumatic growth, or even trauma in general. But the viral nature of his post does signal a desire among many service members and veterans to bounce back from tough times and reflect on where it has left them.