Articles

Resilience is a deep-seated personal quality made up of many different skills and competencies. Research is suggesting that presently between 5% and 10% of South Africa’s population possesses true resilience. This sub-group consists of individuals who are able to deal with stress, demands, setbacks or change in their lives in healthy and effective ways. They have sufficient psychological stability to bounce back from adversity and restore healthy patterns of behavior. Not only do truly resilient and emerging-resilient people bounce back, but many are also likely to grow and mature following personal setbacks or even personal trauma.

Together with the psychological advantages of resilience, current research indicates that resilient individuals are likely to enjoy physical advantages over their counterparts as well. In studies with university students, for example, the heart rates of resilient students normalized more rapidly following exposure to a stressful task, compared with other students. To add to this, resilient people have been found to be less likely to become depressed.

When personal circumstances are supportive and conducive to creating resilience, the personal abilities and competencies of people accumulate and compound, building enduring personal resources. Over time, the presence of recurring positive emotions, for instance – especially when people are young and impressionable – tends to produce an upward spiral of growth which in turn seeds and fuels later human flourishing (Prof Barbara Frederickson, 2004).

The range of personal strengths associated with resilience can be learnt. It is never too late to learn. Resilient adults are more likely to respond favourably to

pressures and opportunities in the workplace, and they are more likely to be motivated and self-reliant in their work. Socially too resilient people are adept. Not only do they cultivate positive emotions in themselves, but they are skilled at eliciting positive emotions in others.

Converging research evidence from the field of positive psychology suggests that resilient people …

· have optimistic, zestful and energetic approaches to life;

· are curious and open to new experiences, and

· are characterized by high positive emotionality.

Prof Barbara Frederickson, from her ground-breaking work in the field of positive psychology, has contributed significantly to our understanding of the nature of personal resilience.


Her work at universities has focused a great deal on the role played over time by the presence of positive emotions, amongst other factors, in creating resilience. From her research observations, Prof Frederickson has had this to say about the effect of positive emotions on people:

“When positive emotions are in ample supply, people take off. They become generative, creative, resilient, ripe with possibility and beautifully complex” …

… a highly desirable way of living in today’s ever-changing world.

Jenny Dry

Institute for Balanced Living

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