Does growth require suffering? A systematic review and meta-analysis on genuine posttraumatic and postecstatic growth

Psychol Bull. 2019 Mar;145(3):302-338. doi: 10.1037/bul0000173. Epub 2018 Dec 27.


Previous literature on growth after major life events has primarily focused on negative experiences and operationalized growth with measures which rely on the post hoc self-perception of change. Because this method is prone to many biases, two questions have become increasingly controversial: Is there genuine growth after major life events and does growth require suffering? The present meta-analysis is the first synthesis of longitudinal research on the effects of life events on at least one subdomain of psychological well-being, posttraumatic, or postecstatic growth. Studies needed to have a longitudinal design, assess changes through independent measures over time, and provide sufficient data to estimate change scores. The present meta-analysis comprises 364 effect sizes from 154 independent samples (total N = 98,436) in 122 longitudinal studies. A positive trend has been found for self-esteem, positive relationships, and mastery in prospective studies after both positive and negative events. We found no general evidence for the widespread conviction that negative life events have a stronger effect than positive ones. No genuine growth was found for meaning and spirituality. In the majority of studies with control groups, results did not significantly differ between event and control group, indicating that changes in the outcome variables cannot simply be attributed to the occurrence of the investigated life events. More controlled prospective studies are necessary to validate the genuine nature of postevent growth. Overall, the meta-analysis provides a systematic overview of the state of life event research and delineates important guidelines for future research on genuine growth. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Posttraumatic Growth, Psychological*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Self Concept
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*