By David Pattinson
This is the seventh reflection on the ’10 keys to happiness” promoted by “Action for happiness”(AfH) – https://www.actionforhappiness.org. AfH have identified these as activities which promote mental health and wellbeing. In this series we are exploring how this psychologically and clinically well researched menu compares with a Biblical perspective.
In this reflection, we are looking at Resilience – our ability to cope with, and bounce back from adversity; to bend instead of break; to persevere and adapt in the face of challenges. It comes from the Latin word resilio – to jump back.
All of us have times of stress, loss, failure or trauma in our lives. But how we respond to these has a big impact on our wellbeing. A happy life isn’t one completely free of difficulties, and often we cannot choose what happens to us. But we can choose how we respond. Whilst it might not be easy, recent research has found that resilience, and how to boost it, can be learned, because human beings are naturally resilient. One expert in the subject, Dr Ann Masten, describes resilience as ‘ordinary magic’ – it comes from our normal, everyday capabilities, relationships and resources.
We might even ask the question – Is stress a friend or a foe? Maybe it’s a case of “Don’t get stressed about being stressed”. There is a saying that most of us have heard: “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” and science has shown that it does have some truth in it. Experiencing some adversity during our lives does increase our resilience. Experiences that bring people face to face with the fragility of life can bring them a sharpened appreciation of their relationships, for example, and of the importance of living in the present. Resilience then is not just about surviving, but about growing and thriving.
Our resilience is influenced by three key sets of factors: our development as a child and as a teenager; external factors such as our relationships with others or having a faith; and internal factors such as how we choose to interpret events, manage our emotions and regulate our behaviour.
So here are some key messages:-
1.Focus on what we can control. Know, use and actively develop your strengths.It takes tough times to show us what we are really made of.
2.Be an optimistic realist. Think positively. The poster for this key to happiness says “if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it”. Andrew Carnegie commented “I have been surrounded by troubles all my life long, but there is a curious thing about them – nine-tenths of them never happened.” Avoid thinking the worst.
3.Nurture Relationships. Help others. Acquire good role models.One of the key external sources of resilience is our network of relationships with other people such as family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues. Knowing when we need help and asking for it is an important part of resilience.
4.Have a sense of purpose, values and meaning. People of faith do better in a crisis.
Bringing a biblical perspective on resilience is not so easy. However, it is noteworthy that in talking about this key to happiness the benefit of having a faith is explicitly mentioned. Faith gives us a context for life; helps us see ourselves in a much bigger picture. How many times have we said “without my faith, I don’t know how I would have coped with………”
I also found myself thinking about Biblical role models for resilience. Two immediately came to mind. Joseph may have had a high opinion of himself, but he had the ability to bounce back. From father’s favourite son to a desert pit; sold to Ishmaelites; proclaimed dead; a slave in the house of Potiphar in Egypt. Enough to crush anybody. But Joseph observes the key messages, and bounces back to be the head of the household of Potiphar. But again, falsely accused of insulting Potiphar’s wife, Joseph finds himself imprisoned. This time Joseph bounces back to be first minister in all Egypt. A great role model for faith and resilience.
And you have to hand it to Paul. He says to the church in Corinth “Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. (2 Corinthians 11:25-27) Another great role model for faith and resilience.
Who would you choose?