It is during uncertain times like our current COVID-19 crisis where we see Positive Psychology in practice. Since the world feels a little scary and very unpredictable right now, I thought we would take a deep dive into resilience. What is it? Are you born with it or is it acquired along the way? What can you do to get more?
Merriam Webster defines resilience as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”. Our team at Positive Minds International gives that definition 2 thumbs down!
- Implying resilience is easy isn’t okay.
- Blaming misfortune denies your important role in resilience
We like to think of resilience as choosing to work through challenges so you become stronger than you were previously.
It’s similar to the way our bones become stronger they more we use our muscles. No gain without a little pain!
Another example is Kintsugi 金継ぎ, the Japanese approach to ceramics founded in a belief that damaged pottery shouldn’t simply be neglected or thrown away. Repairing with enormous care symbolizes a sort of reconciliation with the flaws.
Kin = golden
tsugi = joinery
Literally, ‘to join with gold’.
Resilience came from the word resiliens, used in the 1600s to describe how organic matter could bounce back to what it was before – like bamboo in the wind.
The American Psychological Association’s definition is more aligned with the way we teach resilience-
“Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress”
Some of our favourite research on resilience comes from the Institute for Child Development at the University of Minnesota where Ann Masten refers to resilience as “ordinary magic”.
Masten’s checklist for resilient children includes:
- Capable caregiving and parenting
- Other close relationships
- Problem-solving skills
- Self-regulation skills
- Motivation to succeed
- Faith, hope, belief life has meaning
- Effective schools
- Effective communities
- Effective cultural practices
Here’s an excellent teaching story about resilience:
A young woman went to her mother and complained that everything in her life was going wrong; her relationship had fallen apart. She was in a job that felt repetitive and mindless and she was lonely- she felt she had hit rock bottom. As the young woman started to cry, her mother went to the stove and put 3 pots of water on to boil. In one she placed a carrot, in one an egg, and in the last some coffee beans. The mother sat silently as the daughter dried her tears and watched all 3 pots boil. After a while the mother asked the daughter to feel the carrot which was soft, to crack the egg which was now hard, and to taste the coffee which was delicious. The mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity. When the carrot was placed in the water it had been strong, hard, unrelenting and yet it came out soft and weak. The egg had been fragile with a soft center and it came out hardened and unforgiving but still easy to crack. The coffee beans were unique- they had changed the water. In the face of adversity, the beans adapted by changing the world around them.
As our team prepares this post the world has been rocked by COVID-19. Like many past challenges humans have encountered ( AIDs, smallpox, Y2K) the fear can either set off a panic ultimately leading to isolation and desperation or it can be the precursor to a new way of working together to overcome it. The difference that we see, the thing that separates the carrot and egg from the coffee bean, is hope.
How does this relate to you? If you are an educator or a parent, it’s important to note one recent study showed that better educational opportunities were associated with resilience, hope and emotional wellbeing. And yet, there has never been greater uncertainty around education than we see today. I like to see the opportunity this gives us- for far too long we have let the system of education dictate both what is and what is not possible for our children. I believe the chaos of COVID will settle, leaving in its wake an opportunity to rethink education.
“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.”
― Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I invite you to share your dreams for the future of education. Let’s imagine a system where every child’s strengths are seen and harnessed. where curiosity continues to flourish throughout the teen years and where we empowered learners with the skills they will need to be their best and do their best as lifelong learners and leaders.
Check out our Facebook group for ideas on helping children foster resilsince.
Not only is happiness a word that the scientists who study it avoid using, but it’s also something neither they nor most of the rest of the population can agree on a definition for. What is happiness? How do you know if you have it? If you don’t have it, what can you do to get it? And if you do have it is it greedy to want more?
Happiness is sort of like the weather. There are aspects of the weather that we can agree on a measurement for, like temperature, barometric pressure, precipitation, or windchill factor. Where the confusion happens is when we try as a collective to decide on one “best weather”. I like it warm and sunny but not humid. My 16 year old likes it really hot and humid and my husband loves a cooler, more crisp temperature with occasional rain. To add to the fact that each of us has a different “best weather”, our judgment changes if we are on a boat, on a ski hill or hiking through a forest- it’s contextual.
Happiness is a lot like this. Some people describe it as peaceful. Others would say joyous or invigorating. Some equate pleasure with happiness where others associate it with a warm embodied hope.
The good news is The Happiness Reset (my book) is designed to help you to decide what your best weather is across all the contexts of your life.
Here’s the model:
The individual challenge is to decide how you want to feel and then to figure out what you need to do more or less of to maintain that feeling. These six domains contain a smorgasbord of options.
The domain of purpose includes sub-topics like:
Sense of Meaning – ask yourself “to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?”. People who have a high rating on this question live lives characterized by health and wellbeing.
Intentional Living – One of the best ways to derive fulfilment in life is to work on projects you initiate intentionally.
Accomplishment – Martin Seligman, the founding father of Positive Psychology, includes accomplishment as foundational for happiness. In his model purpose and accomplishment are two separate domains. I see them as too connected to separate and I see too many instances where hyper-focus on achievement depletes happiness. By combining purpose with accomplishment we ensure that achievements are for the greater good.
Greater Good – As mentioned above, questioning whether your actions are personal for the benefit of your community can act as a GPS to purpose.
The domain of social connection includes:
Cultivating Trust and Respect– the foundation for all relationships, be they friendships, romances, or workplace relationships relies on trust, respect and vulnerability.
Fixing Friendship Stumbling-blocks – the skills of finding and forming friendships is often left to chance rather than taught. The skills to fix a relationship require the ability to communicate clearly and to find a balance of give and take. There is also a skill to apologizing and overcoming hurt, Knowing how to leave a toxic relationship is also important.
Belonging vs Fitting In – learning to be who you are rather than who “they” want you to be.
The domain of letting go includes:
Forgiveness – To forgive is to stop feeling angry or resentful towards someone for an offence, flaw, mistake or something they did that was wrong. Forgiving is more for the forgiver than the forgivee.
Conscious Action – Awareness and intention help you maintain present moment awareness, keeping the past and future at bay.
Detachment – In order to acquire something, you have to relinquish your attachment to having it. When you recognize that the only genuine source of security is living as your true self, then you can more easily detach.
Acceptance – awareness of the present moment without judgment.
The domain of self-knowledge includes:
Character Strengths – the scientific classification of 24 universal traits that provide a common language of what’s right with you.
Core Values – fundamental beliefs that guide principles, dictate behaviour, and can help people understand the difference between right and wrong.
Habit Formation Tendency – what strategies work best for an individual to do (or stop doing) something.
Personality Type – the psychological classification of different types of individuals.
The domain of Positive Experience includes:
Positive Emotion – Developing the ability to initiate, prolong, and build emotional experiences that feel good.
Flow – also known as being “in the zone”, flow is the mental state where performing an activity is immersive and energizing. It requires a meeting of challenge and skill as well as enjoyment in the process of the activity.
Prosocial behaviour – doing something that benefits others.
The domain of Mindfulness includes:
Meditation – is the practice of embracing internal stillness with intentions of ultimately reaching a different level of consciousness.
Savouring – the use of thoughts and actions to increase the intensity, duration, and appreciation of positive experiences and emotions.
Reflection – the examination of one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings.
Presence – paying attention to the present moment without being drawn into the past or forecasting the future.
The domain of gratitude includes:
Feeling – the physical sensations that accompany the experience of the emotion of gratitude.
Expressing – the verbal or physical action that shows someone you are grateful.
Receiving – having gratitude for something you are, did, or said expressed to you.
Each of these areas offers unique was to enhance your happiness. Learn more by reading my book The Happiness Reset- What to do When Nothing Makes You Happy. Available November 15th on Amazon.com.
According to positive psychology pioneers Martin Seligman and David Petersen in their book Character Strengths and Virtues, kindness refers to “doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them.” Kindness can be broken into two main categories:
- Being kind
- Receiving kindness from others
Often we prioritize the being and focus less on the receiving. Let’s break both apart. What constitutes a true act of kindness? “Acts of kindness focus on promoting positive outcomes for others rather than for oneself.”according to researchers Trew and Alden.
Biologically humans needed social instincts like kindness to:
- Enhance group cohesion and bonding
- Help us act as caregivers
- Keep us safe from other tribes
- Increase our experience of Positive Emotions
- Relax our facial expressions (we smile more, our faces soften)
- Neural firing pathways (begin thinking down the same lines)
- Heart rhythm (heart rates slow and begin to match each other)
According to Dacher Keltner in his book Born to Be Good. Kindness enables us to work together as a tribe. It’s innate. Yet just because something is innate doesn’t mean we always do it. Kindness can be both caught and taught. It involves nature AND nurture.
So while we may initially experience intrinsic motivation to do something, it still requires environmental supports. Most children begin to hear about kindness as one of their first lessons in a school setting. Kindness includes manners, fairness, generosity, turn-taking and words of praise or gratitude.
Neuroscientist Jamil Jaki from Stanford has developed a ten-week experiment “Becoming Kinder” exploring generosity, goodwill, and empathy. Designed as an empathy gym with ‘kindness challenges like
- Reverse the golden rule
- Spend Kindly
- Disagree better
- Kind Tech
- Be a Culture Builder
that are specifically designed to encourage individuals to step out of their comfort zones in the name of being kind.
Another common kindess practice is a random act of kindness. According to the Greater Good Science Center there is actually an optimal dosage for random acts of kindess- 5 acts of kindness in one day.
One of the benefits of kindness according to psychologist John Gottman who has been researching couples in his “Love Lab” at the University of Washington for over 4 decades is better relationships. His obsession involves understanding what factors predict a successful relationship. Over decades he has interviewed hundreds of newlyweds with one goal, to see them argue. When Gottman observes a couple argue he can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples will stay together and be happy, stay together unhappily or split up. What it comes down to is kindness and generosity. “Kindness doesn’t mean that we don’t express our anger, but the kindness informs how we choose to express the anger.”
Being kind to yourself, self-compassion, is also incredibly important to wellbeing, People who treat themselves kindly feel more empathic concern, they are more altruistic, they feel more connected to the world around them and they feeling more socially connected (especially in the teen years).
Kindness can be as simple as a smile and using someone’s name in conversation. When you make eye contact and use people’s names you elicit oxytocin production. This small act of kindness increases wellbeing.
Kindness can also be a grand gesture like the ones told on the podcast Kind World such as carrying a baby for a sibling or crossing the border multiple times a week to deliver water, food, and lessons to children seeking asylum.
Try these simple ways to activate kindness:
- Use someone’s name
- Hold a door for someone
- Pick up litter
- Let someone into your lane while driving
- Pay for the order behind you in the drive-thru
- Take a neighbor’s garbage bins to and from the curb
- Compliment someone
- Clean up after yourself
- Send a “thinking of you” text
- Remind someone of a positive shared past experience
- Include someone new on a social outing
- Let someone who wants to help you, help
- Don’t offer advice unless asked
- Share silence with someone
- Engage in random acts of kindness
- Engage in kind acts that are not random at all
If you are like most people, you probably find it easier to be kind than to be on the receiving act of a kind act. Indications that this is true include deflecting compliments or not accepting gratitude. Sometimes receiving kindness and compassion can feel threatening, as though the one being kind is somehow superior. If you notice you have trouble receiving gifts, compliments, or acts of generosity and love, spend some time reflecting on why. Who taught you to behave this way or modeled this behavior? Many people have adopted this learned behavior as a way of being humble. If someone gives you a compliment, not receiving it stops its power for both the giver and the receiver.
*originally written for the Institute of Positive Education