I was sitting with a group of friends the other night, deep in that type of intense, honest, rare conversation about life that leaves me feeling slightly buzzed.
The topic twisted and turned, the way good conversations do, coming to rest on the subject of how some people evolve throughout their lives while others seem to stay stuck.
I tossed the question out—it was one that I’d wondered about for years. Having lost several loved ones to drug and alcohol abuse, I’ve often questioned why some people survive their addictions and demons and others don’t.
“Resilience,” one of my friends said instantly, her dark eyes shining.
The moment she said it, I knew she was onto something.
As defined by Merriam-Webster, resilience is “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.”
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, recently spoke about resilience in a commencement speech at the University of California, Berkeley.
“You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience,” Sandberg said, as she spoke about the aftermath of her husband Dave’s sudden death in 2015. “Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are—and you just might become the very best version of yourself.”
So how do we shore up on resilience? Here are several ways to cultivate the ability to grow through life’s challenges instead of getting stuck:
Build gratitude. “Finding gratitude and appreciation is key to resilience. People who take the time to list things they are grateful for are happier and healthier,” Sandberg said in her speech. Gratitude feeds on itself. We can be thankful for having a roof over our heads or for our family and friends, the way an orb of sunlight turns the bark on a tree silver, or the steady woosh of our own breath. The more we practice noticing the good in our lives, the easier it will be to find flecks of goodness when times get tough.
Have a sense of humor. When my brother died suddenly at the age of 21, my already dark sense of humor reared up. The local newspaper left my name out of his obituary, and I was crushed. We complained, and the newspaper agreed to run it a second time, this time with my name listed as a survivor. Once I realized how much my brother, an attention-loving extrovert, would’ve enjoyed getting not one but two obituaries, I laughed and laughed. That moment of laughter was a signpost to me that I was going to survive. Tuning in to life’s funny moments means more laughter in both light and dark times.
Don’t numb out. Most of us have crutches we lean on sometimes—too much food, booze, TV or shopping. Dancing too close to addictions is counteractive to developing resilience. When we’re in our addictions, we’re giving energy to our inability to cope instead of feeding our resilience. Building mindfulness around our tendencies to self-medicate now just might help prevent diving into them later.
Ask for help. Part of being strong is knowing we need help sometimes. Getting in the habit of asking for help—from anything to finding a therapist to telling your partner you’d like them to fold the laundry—can interrupt the thinking that tells us we need to do things all on our own. The ability to receive help is a crucial building block of resilience.
Make meaning. “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning,” wrote Viktor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl lost most of his family in the Holocaust and spent years in concentration camps during World War II. While there, he studied the other prisoners and noticed that the ability to find meaning, even in such bleak circumstances, was what helped some prisoners survive. Some people make meaning after tragedies by helping others in similar circumstances. Some create art or write books about their experience. The practice of finding little glimmers of goodness can help us survive the unthinkable.
Taking the time to cultivate resiliency brings buoyancy to our lives, whether we’re dealing with everyday stress, or life’s biggest challenges.
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Image: Gregorio Puga Bailón/Flickr