Adrianna Calvo/Creative Commons
Source: Adrianna Calvo/Creative Commons

Ever wonder why some people are able to remain positive in a crisis, while others seem to fall apart when they lose their wallet?

The key is resilience—the ability to adapt to change and cope with difficult situations, uncertainty and disappointment. It helps people rebound after a loss, so they can move forward and ultimately thrive.

At the end of the day, resilience is a choice—a series of coping skills—anyone can learn.

In The How Of Happiness, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky reports that while 60 percent of happiness is predetermined, 40 percent is within a person’s reach.  

A common misconception is that genetics determine happiness, and that an individual is either resilient or not. That assumes people are born with a belief system—the glass is either half empty or half full. But Lyubomirsky and her team of researchers discovered only 50 percent of happiness is based on genetic makeup and another 10 percent is based on life experience. The rest is a personal choice.

Maria Sirois, PsyD, teaches Crafting the Resilient Life, a three month course at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, which focuses on tools and practices that help build resilience. According to Maria, here are six things you can do:

1. Be positive

Instead of dwelling on what went wrong in your day, called “fault finding,” pay attention to what went right—no matter how small it is. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson found resilient people have the same number of negative emotions as unhappy people but they do not focus on them. Fredrickson computed a formula for happiness. In order to be resilent and flourish, the average person needs to experience a 3-to-1 ratio of positive to negative emotions.

2. Find your choir

During tough times, everyone needs a support system. There are three levels of connections that are beneficial in a crisis:

  • Experts (therapists, healers, counselors, coaches)
  • Those who have been in a similar situation but are further along in the process (i.e. someone recently divorced or survived breast cancer)
  • “The Choir” (those you can count on no matter what)

A choir is a small group of people who you trust implicitly—often old friends and members of the family.

3. Try mindfulness

Mindfulness is the simple practice of self-observation by bringing awareness to the present moment. It does not need to take place on a meditation cushion or a yoga mat. When practiced repeatedly, Sirois says, it allows an individual to see a situation more accurately, which in turn helps you respond and react more skillfully.

4. Choose happiness 

Remember, you always have a choice. It is within each person’s power to see the best, or worst, in any given situation. Small, positive change happens when a person alters his or her thinking. Most days are a combination of good and bad moments. The challenge is to choose happiness, even when life does not unfold as you planned.

5. Practice gratitude

In times of stress it is easy to take things for granted: heat on a cold day, shelter, food, even our health. Psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar suggests writing down three best moments at the end of each day. A sunset, a good cup of coffee, a great book, can all help elevate negative emotion to a positive or neutral state. Can you learn to appreciate the small stuff?

6. Lead from your strengths

Resilient people often succeed because they spend most of their energy playing to their signature strengths, not focusing on improving their weaknesses. While this approach contradicts many popular theories about self-improvement, positive psychologist Martin Seligman found it is easier to remain confident if one is able to solve problems during a difficult time. One way to do that, is to identify what you are good at, and utilize those strengths. Are you persistent? Kind? A people person? Signature strengths are an important tool that help us with the one thing we have control over—how we react.


Ben-Shahar, T. Being Happy. United States: McGraw-Hill. Chapters 1–4. 2011.

Ben-Shahar, T. Choose the Life You Want: 101 Ways to Create Your Own Road to Happiness. New York: The Experiment. 2012.

Frederickson, B. Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown Archetype. Chapters 1–6. 2009.

Lyubomirsky, S. The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin Press. Chapters 1, 2, 5, 6. 2008.

Reivich, K. The Resilience Factor. New York: Broadway Books. Intro and Chapter 1, 2002.

Sirois, M. Every Day Counts. New York: Walker Publishing Company. 2006.

Seligman, M. Authentic Happiness. New York: The Free Press. Chapters 8 and 9. 2002.

© 2016 Jennifer Mattson

About the Author

Jennifer Mattson

Jennifer Mattson is a former network news producer for CNN, CNN International and National Public Radio.

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