Aspects of a unique, fulfilling, self-actualized life
A Comment on Resilience, Happiness, and Personal Growth
A Comment on Resilience, Happiness, and Personal Growth
Resilience is most often understood as adapting to or coping with adversity or a serious traumatic event in one’s life. One addresses the psychological distress reflected in one’s body and mind, expresses and shares one’s experience, and makes use of support from others. If you examine the psychological literature behind this definition you find another, far more dynamic concept of resilience. It is one rooted in authentic happiness, self-actualization, and spiritual experience, underpinnings from which one can draw, giving depth to one’s resiliency. Experts call this more comprehensive resilience posttraumatic growth (Tedeschi, Park, & Calhoun, 1998) and there are three primary aspects of it that draw upon these roots. These are the inevitable change in one’s identity and self-image, one’s relationships, and in one’s worldview and life philosophy. A “lemons into lemonade” approach in which one is encouraged to be receptive to events beyond one’s control, while responding to them in an actively engaged manner, changing oneself and one’s life as prompted by the adversity and hardship one is facing. Processing experience in this way benefits problem solving regarding the crisis, fosters positive identity change, and contributes to one’s spiritual development.
Authentic happiness has been defined as moments of absorption in an activity that is fulfilling to a person (Seligman, 2002). Happiness is not defined as moments of joy and excitement or as times of lively thrilling activity. Instead, it is transcending self-consciousness, an “in the flow” forgetting of oneself, while engaged in valued and meaningful activity. The other positive elements are nice but optional; “following one’s bliss” is what is important. And because one is more informed about one’s self and life one makes better choices and takes appropriate action on one’s behalf. When life is weighted more toward these fulfilling moments than unsatisfying or painful ones a person is happier. This happiness is the more enduring kind that adversity or trauma cannot steal and to which one can return time and time again. It is also this meaningful activity that further clarifies and strengthens the feeling of being one’s true self, with these insights begetting more truth and happiness.
Maintaining a fulfilling life based on one’s dynamic, self-actualized identity enables one to maintain an attitude of receptivity to imposed change, while supporting non-attachment to one’s personal status quo. A time of crisis in which one grieves one’s losses while embracing the inevitable transformations of self, relationships, and worldview not only strengthens one’s authenticity but also lends true direction to one’s life. And then one is given the opportunity to shape and live out one’s destiny as it evolves, with one being more resilient to feeling personally devastated or that one’s life is ruined. One feels a permanency even in the midst of difficult change, thereby feeling a mastery over the situation. It becomes about who one truly is and what statement one will make with one’s life. This quality response to a crisis improves one’s wellbeing as it proactively prepares one for future unexpected challenging events.
The psychological literature tells us that spiritual and religious models are helpful during times of crisis. They provide a way to give meaning to tragic events by furnishing an established worldview on life’s mysteries from birth to afterlife, helping one comprehend and reconcile to one’s circumstances. Inherent in these teachings are instruction and guidance on action to take to work one’s way through adversity. Now the crisis also presents an opportunity for the individual’s spiritual development. This can range from having one’s spiritual beliefs affirmed and strengthened to the transcendence of one’s individual ego self. One can be moved at these times to know first hand the divine presence that exists within and around all of us, spiritual emergence occurring as personality expands to include this transpersonal condition mind or higher self. Additionally, the resulting state of awareness benefits one by providing an equanimity and uplifted state of awareness that is useful in facing adversity. This experience is faith consciousness, and is sometimes referred to as God/Spirit not preventing adversity or crisis in one’s life but assisting one in seeing one’s way through the adversity.
Individuals have choices when facing troubling times or crises. If the choice is to resist, or in some way deny the truth of the inevitable changes, one remains miserable and the negative effect of a crisis becomes a chronic condition from which one may not recover. But as noted, a crisis can result in posttraumatic psychological and spiritual growth while further strengthening one’s overall resilience. If one’s efforts focus on embracing change the experience can be personally meaningful, leaving one happier than before, and further along on one’s path to authentic happiness and self-actualization. And perhaps further along on the path to self-realization.
In general, how resilient do you believe yourself to be, and why?
The “deathbed question” is a means to begin to assess if one’s life is fulfilling. Ask yourself it now; “what do you appreciate that you do/did during your lifetime, and what do/did you regret not having done?”
In what ways does your spirituality assist and guide you in dealing with adversity?
What would alert you to the fact that you are resisting the necessary changes described above as part of posttraumatic growth?
Reflect on an adversity you have been through, e.g. loss of a loved one, natural disaster, financial setback, and identify the means by which you embraced and triumphed over it.
Most of the time we reason and think about things in a logical discursive linear fashion. It usually limits us to comprehending things as “either/or”, “this is right but that is wrong”. Because people tend to gravitate toward information that supports their worldview most everyone competes for what they believe is their own superior truth. This is an obvious impediment to collaborative problem solving and conflict resolution. Now, in the post-postmodern era in which we’re living there is a pluralism because people want to be open minded and fair, and this results in people not considering the various degrees of truth in an argument and the need to synthesize them. Some try, some can’t, and those that cannot mistakenly hold all truths as equal, and this prevents consensus and good decision making, especially in a group situation with many good ideas. Using “and/both” helps this effort, reducing the tendency to invalidate one partial or limited truth with another. But this approach doesn’t suffice either. That’s because there can be a bigger challenge posed to the conditioned discursive mind, and that is the situation in which diametrically opposed truths must be reconciled. However reconciliation can be accomplished with an integrative attitude while asking oneself “what is the truth that transcends and includes the two opposing truths?” thereby a unifying and more comprehensive truth emerges and prevails. The need to integrate disparate truths in this fashion is not only necessary in interpersonal situations but is crucial for self-understanding. When purely discursive reasoning might have resulted in an impasse to understanding or an erroneous conclusion, a beneficial personal insight is more likely to arise using this approach. Nowhere is this more important than in understanding our experiences and our selves on the spiritual journey when psychological and spiritual truths can seem at odds.
How often do you successfully use intuition rather than discursive linear logic?
How often do you experiment with replacing the words “either/or” with “and/both”?
Do you recognize when you are trying to make your point or win an argument versus when you are being curious while emphasizing understanding what the other is communicating?
Reflecting on one personal insight about your character, would your conclusion change if you integrated conflicting truths?
If you were less willing to accept all truths as equal, while recognizing and not rejecting partial truths, how might that change your participation in group discussions?