Those who study resilience note that genuinely happy people often have far from perfect lives.
Their success and overall well being is often attributed not to their circumstances, but to attitudes and practices they have cultivated in order to navigate life.
That might explain why some people remain positive in the face of illness, while others seem miserable despite great wealth and privilege. It’s not just what happens to us, it’s how we deal with it.
Life is challenging for most people at some point. So when things fall apart, it’s helpful to have a set of tools to fall back upon. That tool set is called resilience and according to psychologists Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte in The Resilience Factor it is something you can learn.
Maria Sirois, PsyD, who teaches Crafting the Resilient Life at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, says resilient people understand the role they play in their own happiness and know they are capable of solving problems, even if they don’t have a solution at hand.
According to Maria, here are four things resilient people do, that you can, too:
1. Ask for help
Resilient people know they can’t do it alone. They ask for help. But more specifically, they go to the right person. In a medical emergency, resilient people will rely on experts by calling 9-1-1 or a hospital and tap their network for medical professionals. While friends and family can be comforting, resilient people make skillful choices as to which friend or which family member to rely on in a given situation.
2. Learn from failure
Resilient people understand failure is a necessary stumbling block toward success. In his book, Choose The Life You Want, psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar writes extremely successful people often fail repeatedly and understand they must risk making mistakes to thrive: “The choice is a simple one: Lean to fail, or fail to learn.”
3. Stay positive
While unrealistic optimism can clout one’s judgement and therefore lead to poor decision making, realistic optimism is essential to happiness. In Positivity, researcher Barbara Fredrickson found people who score high on resilience surveys do not “succumb to negativity” in stressful circumstances but are able to retain some level of positivity. Fredrickson writes those who exhibited resilience after September 11 were neither in denial nor selfish. They experienced great pain, suffering and loss just like everyone else. What made their circumstance different, was they were able to let their negativity sit alongside positive emotions like gratitude, love and joy.
4. Keep going
Research shows that having good problem solving skills enables people to succeed. The core ingredient necessary to push through chronic stress or difficulty is self-efficacy—the belief one can master his or her environment and solve problems. This skill may be likened to perseverance. People high in self-efficacy don’t give up immediately and stay the course. They continue to try new ways to solve a problem until they find a solution. In this way, believing you can do it, actually makes it so.
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.
Masten, A., Best, K., Garmezy, N. “Resilience and development: Contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity.” Development and Psychopathology. 1990.
Sirois, M. Every Day Counts. New York: Walker Publishing Company. 2006.
© 2016 Jennifer Mattson