Quakes gave people chance to 'rethink lives'

ANNA TURNER
Last updated 09:54 18/10/2012

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Canterbury's earthquakes gave many people a chance to re-evaluate their lives and break their "mundane existences", a University of Canterbury student has found.

Fourth-year marketing student Meagan Parker spent four months researching post-quake outlooks and wrote an honours dissertation on the subject.

She said the 2010 and 2011 quakes made some people "rethink their entire lives" and escape their mundane routines.

"The quakes gave people an excuse to try new things they've always wanted to. Feeling close to death gave them an opportunity to live life more,'' she said.

"They went places they hadn't been before or changed their lives. They really took the opportunity to make a change out of something awful."

The 22-year-old had not expected to find that result when she began her research.

"Not everybody felt that way, but I was surprised that there were some people who did,'' she said.

''I found something I had never been looking for. Obviously no-one was glad the earthquake happened, and many people said they really suffered and that it was their worst years, but they did find some positives in it."

The phenomenon was called post-traumatic growth, Parker said.

"It doesn't have to be an earthquake or a natural disaster, but any kind of crisis,'' she said.

''People realise life is short and it forces them to really re-evaluate what they're doing with their lives. One man said it made him rethink his whole core values."

Parker found that some people became less attached to "sentimental objects" as a result of the quakes.

''These objects represented a part of their life that has passed. For example, people's houses, which are very special to them, also represented them being stuck in a life they weren't happy with," she said.

''People stopped having an attachment to previously important items and became more attached to mundane items that previously carried no meaning. People are holding on to things that are wrecked and make no logical sense.''

Some people "transcended their old attachment to possessions" and found new meaning in different things, she said.

''It is no longer the nice car and nice house, but finding meaning in different, non-physical things, like helping others," Parker said.

"Some survivors surveyed asked if anyone cared about possessions. Some can no longer remember what was damaged.

''They didn't care that they no longer had special possessions about any more but found having survived the quakes quite liberating.''

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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