The year 1975 holds a lofty place in the annals of stress research. That was when the Federal government decided to deregulate the telephone business, which at the time was a monopoly held by AT&T. Recognizing the opportunity to observe the effects of mass stress, Salvatore Maddi, a professor of psychology at UC Irvine, began a 12-year project to track the fate of 450 managers at a Chicago subsidiary. What he found upended basic ideas about human psychology and paved the way for a whole new perspective on stress.
When the breakup took place in 1981, half of the company’s employees were laid off. For two-thirds of them, the transition was traumatic. Many were unable to cope. They died of heart attacks and of strokes, engaged in violence, got divorced, and had mental health issues. But the other third didn’t fall apart. Their lives actually improved. Their health got better, their careers soared, and their relationships blossomed.
The finding was revolutionary. “The general idea at the time was that you should stay away from stress because it can kill you,” Maddi recalls. “But it turned out that some people thrive on it.”
What made these people different? Sifting through his data, Maddi discerned a trend. Read the rest of this entry »