Reflections on Resilience

I have been away from my blog too long. First there were the holidays, which always eclipse everything else. Then I traveled out west to visit my mother and help out in those small ways that make things run smoother — getting ready for the conversion to digital TV, fixing the email connection, cleaning out a cupboard or two. Then I had the dual pleasure of visiting good friends in San Diego and having a press pass at the conference at Claremont Graduate University called Applying the Science of Positive Psychology to Improve Society. Have no small goals! My summaries are posted on January 30 and 31 of Positive Psychology News Daily.

Resilience from Alaska Moms Photo Stream

Resilience from Alaska Mom's Photo Stream

Now that I’m back at my own desk looking out my own window at the bare trees in the woods, I’ve been thinking about resilience again. I got a call from a reporter who was exploring the question, Why aren’t people unhappier in this time of economic trouble? I did a little looking around, first finding an online resource, The Road to Resilience, published by the American Psychological Association and Discovery Channel in the wake of September 11.

Ann Masten wrote a paper about resilience being “ordinary magic” — when people’s adaptive abilities are in good working order, they can withstand hardship. At the Claremont conference, Chris Peterson and Nansook Park talked about hardship causing character strengths to be developed or discovered. And even though it was a long time ago, we haven’t totally lost our collective memory of coming out the other end of the Great Depression. From people who were children then, we can still learn about gratitude for the blessings of the intervening years.

I’ve written about ways to build resilience — a PPND article called Resilience in the Face of Adversity and a short paper about how to prepare for and deal with the emotional impact of layoffs — available from my resources page.

Perhaps status stress — keeping up with the Joneses — goes down because we all feel at risk. It is a shared adversity.

I also think we are fortunate to have leadership that is eloquently optimistic and that calls on us to participate in the recovery. My mother keeps feeling sorry for President Obama because of the difficulty of his job. But I think, that’s why he was elected, that’s probably even why he ran. Difficult times make openings for greatness.  That was certainly the case with Abraham Lincoln who had even bigger problems to address.

I’d love to hear your ideas.



Filed under Gratitude, Resilience

4 responses to “Reflections on Resilience

  1. I feel optimistic with President Obama in place, but also share your mother’s concern for the tremendous mess he has inherited and is expected by many to correct right away, and the ever present risk his life is in. (Have you been listening to Rush L stirring up the emotions of Obama’s enemies?)

    As an African American growing up in St. Louis when desegregation was alive and well, resilience was strong among my parents and other adults in my life. We had to withstand the normal adversities and setbacks, along with the additional ones imposed on us by racism. Can you imagine having to remember where you could and could not go, or suffering the indignity of having to sit in the “Negro” section of the movie theater?

    In addition there was an ample stream of Depression stories to caution us about the importance of saving and being grateful for what we had (To this day I can barely toss out a piece of aluminum foil if it’s been used only once.)

    We learned early a number of lessons that helped us navigate hard times:
    –bad times don’t last always; this too will pass
    –pick your battles
    –keep your head when others are losing theirs (my mother loved to recite the poem “If”)
    –be the best you can be
    –doesn’t matter whether you eat beans or steak, you’re still full

    The good side of desegregation and struggling for equality was it gave us a shared adversity which meant we provided support and encouragement for each other. I’m grateful for the strength and resilience my upbringing gave me.

  2. Kathryn

    Thanks for your reflections. I’m sorry I haven’t responded sooner – I’ve been away from the Internet for awhile.

    I too fear for the safety of the president — I suppose because so many times he reminds me of Abraham Lincoln. I’ve read almost all of Team of Rivals, but I can’t quite make myself read the last chapter. I know how it ends …

    Yes, he has a tremendous mess to sort out. But perhaps having a leader like him will make it a shared adversity as you describe in your last paragraph — maybe we will, as a people, come through it with greater strength and resilience.

    The schools I attended for 1st through 7th grade were segregated, so I remember the world you are talking about — though not with the directness of your memories. Sometimes I look back and think how much has changed since then — and it gives me hope for what we can achieve together.

    And yes, I have the same feeling about pieces of aluminum foil! I also have trouble figuring out what to do with worn out shoes.

  3. Kathryn,

    You have a bad case of Depression-thriftiness if you have trouble figuring out what to do with worn-out shoes. I’m sure that somewhere there is an artisan who can turn them into something unbelievably beautiful. But I would never find out. I don’t even give things to charity unless they are in good condition.

    It’s interesting that while I didn’t adopt my mother’s habit of saving aluminum foil, it skipped a generation down to my daughter. She’s 28 years old and reuses foil, ziploc bags, bottles and jars. It’s amazing and amusing to see genes at work.

  4. Kathryn Britton

    I did once see an incredible exhibit in the Frye Museum of Willie Cole’s art — including pieces made from hundreds of high heeled shoes. Here’s a picture of one of the pieces:
    Imelda art, it struck me. It was gorgeous. Here are some more pictures —
    It’s not the same, though, as being there in person to see the actual shoes both up close and in the pattern.

    I’m not sure it’s entirely thriftiness. For a pair of shoes to become really worn out, I’ve worn them a lot of places and have a lot of memories associated with them. Also, it hurts to put such materials in the landfill. But they wouldn’t look beautiful…

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