Looking back at my own life journey, particularly over the last decade, I see my personal path to resilience as a series of blue sky days with golden sun-rays with some very grey days flooded by thundery showers. Yet despite some stormy times, I generally find myself celebrating life and walking a path of joy and gratitude. My discoveries and observations of resilient behaviours in myself and those around me, led me to become interested during my academic studies, in how people become, or remain resilient.
Having met with many people who I am honoured to have had share their stories with me, I don’t think I am unique in my continued joie de vivre no matter what life brings me. In fact, as the years pass and I meet more people on my journey, I often learn of people’s abilities to live through incredible hardships, yet still celebrate life and face their days with happiness. So how is this possible?
Is resilience magic or not?
Looking back at past studies of the science of resilience, it seems the opinions of psychological researchers have continued to fluctuate. In 1979, M. Pines defined resilient children as “superkids”, whilst Ann Masten and Michael Rutter found that many children thrived, despite difficult beginnings. Ann Masten’s research considers the phenomenon of thriving despite adversity as common to many, describing resilience as “ordinary magic”.
In 2016, researchers Suniya Luthar and Frank Infurna’s study challenged the view that resilience is ordinary. They found that when facing difficulties, it is evident that not everyone copes in the same way as some individuals struggle with adverse life events more than others.
During my exploration of what it means to be resilient, I have found that the behaviours and thoughts which may lead to resilient coping may vary hugely. Factors such as individual differences in personality, the context of the challenge, cultural background and life stage, may all influence what we do to manage and overcome difficulties and “bounce back”.
Are our life challenges good for us?
Despite our individual strategies for managing life, many people report an ability to maintain a constant sense of wellbeing, even whilst facing very difficult circumstances. There is no one definition of resilience, though frequently, resilient individuals display as an ability to not only recover from adverse life events, but to psychologically grow from them and continue to thrive.
A common experience that people describe when recovering from all kinds of adversity, is a sense that expanding our coping abilities through overcoming challenging life events builds on emotional and psychological resources, enabling us to manage the next obstacle that life sends our way.
The self-knowledge achieved through navigating life challenges also equips us to manage the smaller, less problematic day to day happenings. When we think about what we gain each time we achieve our own personal triumphs, however big or small, then what may previously have seemed daunting and emotionally charged, may appear perfectly manageable and become just something we need to do next.
Accepting the rough and the smooth
Having studied resilient behaviours, I often see the good that comes from the ability to sit in our discomfort and manage to be OK, even whilst solving the problems we may face. Throughout my own life, and from discussions with others, I sense that overcoming and managing difficult events may lead to many benefits, including an elevated sense of self-awareness and self-assuredness.
Resilience is far more than “positive thinking”. By allowing ourselves to be curious throughout the process of finding solutions to challenges, we may discover previously unused or unknown know-how and become resourceful in ways we may not have been. If we can remain open to learning more about ourselves and accept that both the good stuff, as well the not so good stuff is all part of life, then often, life’s challenges can become our greatest opportunities for positive change.
About the Author: Monique Zahavi is a positive psychology practitioner with a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) from Buckinghamshire New University. Having previously founded and managed her own businesses, she currently works for a global education charity and is also a Birkbeck Pathways Mentor. Her research interests include health, well-being, strengths and resilience both in and out of the workplace. She is particularly interested in exploring practices and factors which may enhance well-being and resilience while managing changes in self-identity, with a focus on maintaining resilience during life transitions.
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