How resilient are you? How would you bounce back from job loss, illness, debt or the loss of a loved one?
New research suggests that resilience may have at least as much to do with how often people have faced adversity in past as it does with who they are — their personality, their genes, or what they’re facing now. The number of life blows a person has taken may affect his or her mental toughness more than any other factor.
A study in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology followed nearly 2,000 adults for several years. The participants listed all of the upsetting life events they had experienced before entering the study and any new ones that hit along the way. These included divorce, the death of a friend or parent, a serious illness, and being in a natural disaster.
Strangely, nearly 10 percent reported that they had experienced not one of the fairly comprehensive list of 37 events on the survey. Stranger still, they were not the most satisfied with their lives. Their sense of well-being was about the same, on average, as people who had suffered up to a dozen memorable blows.
It was those in the middle, those reporting two to six stressful events, who scored highest on several measures of well-being, and who showed the most resilience in response to recent hits.
In short, the findings suggest that mental toughness is something like the physical strength: It cannot develop without exercise, and it breaks down when overworked.