I always admired my father’s resilience. He developed an indomitable spirit to do well no matter what external circumstances or challenges might present themselves. It’s obvious where I got my passion for understanding how people can overcome adversity and achieve authentic happiness.
My father had a rough start as a child, but he went on to create a good life. His parents had emigrated from Czechoslovakia to begin a new life in America. But it was not meant to be. His mother died during childbirth and his father was shot and killed five weeks later.
My orphaned father became a foster child on a farm. He was, in essence, an indentured servant. Early on he saw that a terrible fate awaited children who displeased the owners of the farm. Although he had a challenging childhood, my dad went on to make a great life for himself. When he died more than 700 family members, friends and coworkers attended his funeral.
Positive psychologists study people like my dad – those who’ve done well in spite of enormous obstacles. By looking at how individuals who face challenges are able to flourish, we learn valuable lessons that enable us to significantly enhance other people’s resilience skills.
Dr. George Vaillant is a Harvard psychologist who conducted a 50-year study of men from poor communities around Boston as well as men who graduated from Harvard. He learned a great deal about what it takes to create a satisfying and successful life, regardless of your background. Vaillant has discovered that resilient adults master six sequential stages of development.
- First, they successfully establish their own identity, one that is independent of their childhood background.
- Second, they create a mutually satisfying intimate connection with a life partner.
- Third, they engage in meaningful work, making a valuable contribution to society.
- Fourth, they share the personal wisdom they accumulate, helping the next generation learn how to have a well-balanced life.
- Fifth, they leave a professional legacy, passing their knowledge on to those who are following in their footsteps.
- Sixth, they cultivate a level of personal integrity that enables them to be at one with the world and at peace with themselves.
In order to successfully negotiate the first stage – independence – resilient people detach from toxic family members, troublesome peers, and anyone else who’s a bad influence. By escaping from problematic situations and the debilitating patterns of dysfunctional people who create them, they are free to learn from those who know how to flourish.
Resilient individuals find healthy people to mentor them, usually someone outside of their family. They create caring and trustworthy relationships with people who can guide them throughout their life.
This growth mindset starts with having a dream of a happy life would look like. They assume personal responsibility for creating a good life, and are passionate about mastering the skills required to achieve authentic happiness. Ideally they’re able to combine a vision of the life they want to have with a strong work ethic during adolescence.
Developing a positive outcome one is passionate about achieving along with a powerful drive to learn how to get there is the best predictor of career success, satisfying interpersonal relationships, and good mental health.
Resilient people continue to set goals throughout their lifetime. They persistently strive to be successful in their job and their relationships. They maintain a lifetime commitment to enhancing their development as a person, continually creating a higher level of fulfillment.
Resilient individuals who continue to level up throughout their life enjoy mentoring younger people, just as someone did for them. They often become active volunteers in their community, dedicated to making life better for others who are facing challenges. They reach out to those who need someone to teach them how to lift themselves out the troublesome circumstances they’re confronting.
Because they have learned the value of hard work, they expect that those who they mentor will strive to do well in school, achieve a higher education, establish a successful career, and learn how to have satisfying relationships. In fact, they can be rather insistent that people learn to do things the right way, showing little tolerance for excuses when someone tries to take the easy way out.
People who are resilient know that there will be tough times, personal failures, and setbacks. But they can see past those problems to a time when they will have made life good again. They believe they will bounce back because they’ve learned how to be their best possible self.
Dr. Tom Muha is the Director of The PROPEL Institute. As the science of optimal human functioning has emerged, Dr. Muha has become a leading practitioner of Positive Psychology. He has been at the forefront in the study of how people involved in healthcare systems can achieve the highest levels of success and satisfaction.
By combining the research he conducts at a major academic medical center with studies of other extraordinarily high functioning individuals and organizations, Dr. Muha has developed the PROPEL Principles. This approach teaches people to apply six Positive Psychology principles – Passion, Relationships, Optimism, Proactivity, Energy, and Legacy – in order to overcome challenges and achieve remarkable results.