Resilience as the new “happiness”

Happiness seems to be the pathway for people to become acquainted with positive psychology. As a positive psychology coach, I understand the importance of happiness in our lives. It helps us with success and health and relationships. And, who doesn’t want to be happy?

While the media and some researchers focus on happiness, I find myself more interested in the role of resilience in our wellbeing, and consider it to be one of the cornerstones of positive psychology. Many of us talk about physical resilience, such as what it takes to be a marathon runner, or recover from an ailment. We also experience varying degrees of emotional resilience. Think of resilience as the ability to work through challenges, overcome obstacles, and bounce back from adversity. This doesn’t imply we have to get through difficult times by ourselves, or never feel weak or scared; we can seek help from others and be resilient. Indeed, reaching out to others can be a part of resilience. Resilience is both process (How can I best get through this?),and outcome (I got through this and I know I will be okay).

I can’t help but think of the role of resilience in the lives of those affected by catastrophic events like the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, or Hurricane Sandy in the mid-Atlantic region, or the effects of war on thousands of military personnel returning from overseas. All of them will call on their resilience, some more successfully than others. Resilience also serves people facing transitions such as divorce or chronic illness. It can also help us through more everyday challenges such as retirement or contentious family holiday gatherings. We cannot always control what happens, but we can call on our resilience to get through what happens.

Those who study emotional resilience do not fully understand why some people possess greater resilience than others. However, many agree that we can take steps throughout our lives to help build it and nurture it.

1. Build self-efficacy. Find something at work and/or at home that provides challenge and that you can successfully master. Learning a new skill or hobby can contribute to your sense of self-efficacy – if it presents you with a challenge.

2. Engage with others. Being around others who lead positive lives can affect our wellbeing. Likewise, helping others who need assistance allows us to witness their resilience in difficult circumstances.

3. Use your personal strengths. We all have strengths, some of which we use more than others (these are referred to as Signature Strengths). When faced with adverse circumstances, ask yourself what strengths you’ve relied on to get through other trying times. Then, consider if they will work to help you through the current adversity.

Life can bring great joy and happiness. It can also present circumstances outside of our control that present great challenges. Think about the resilient person you are and how you have made it through adverse times before…what were some of the strategies and tactics you used?