The Good Life: Optimism is a Gift, But Resilience is Home Grown

The Good Life: A Year of Thoughtful Seasons by Sarah Mattison Buhl

Growing Resilience

My son is 15. He will likely move away to attend college in three short years. I stayed home to watch him grow for 12 years before returning to work. I hope I told him I loved him every day. At five he was the kind of boy who sprang out of bed in the morning saying, “It’s my lucky day!” Today he is the kind of guy who considers everyone a friend and is a perennial optimist. It turns out every day really is his lucky day. Many things will go right for him in life, but some things will go wrong. What then? Optimism will certainly help, but resilience is what he will need when simple optimism isn’t enough. 

Resilience has something to do with mental toughness. It’s what we do when we sit through a tsunami of anguish, and remain sitting strong long after the crushing swell recedes. Ironically, it is also the ability to flex and move whenever necessary. Resilience is the ability to accept what comes, yet not allow the adversity to define us. Fortunately, author Maureen Heely believes, “The great news is that resiliency isn’t a biological gift from great parents. It is something anyone can learn to grow in themselves or their children.”

Her mandate is trifold; Clear mindset, human connectivity, and spiritually (interpret this as compassion) lead to a healthy, resilient person. Clear mindset is reminding a child to say “I’ll try,” instead of “I can’t do it.” A resilient child isn’t shattered when someone makes a thoughtless remark. Instead, they think, “What people say tells me more about them than me,” or “That person must be having a bad day, maybe I can make it easier.” Human connectivity (emphasis mine) refers to a web of people who make children feel like their best selves, rather than keeping company with people who make them feel small and insufficient. Heely says, “…children that have authentic relationships and can genuinely talk to someone that is nonjudgmental when mistakes happen can grow resilience.” Too much solitude, or solitude accompanied by electronics create a gap where all individuals crave unconditional human support. Electronic devices are beyond captivating, but tragically get in the way of loving relationships. Compassion can develop through a religious or spiritual framework, or it could come through meditation and reflection, but the ultimate goal is compassion itself. Greater Good defines compassion as, “the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.” It is different than empathy. Compassion urges a person to do something.

My teenager is on the right track to resiliency so far, and I am further bolstered by the knowledge that I still have time on my side before he strikes out on his own. Now if I could just get him to turn out the lights when he leaves a room…


Sarah Mattison Buhl

As a mother of three, Sarah appreciates the extraordinary beauty of the ordinary. She makes her home with her family in Northampton, MA.

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