Learning How to Thrive in Hardship

Nancy Ward
According to an April 2020 Gallup poll, regarding the pandemic’s negative financial, physical, and mental effects, 23% of Americans reported feeling they were already in a mental health crisis or just a few weeks away from having one. An additional 19% felt they could hold out for a few months at best. This is not good news considering no one knows the duration of the pandemic or how long social distancing will need to be practiced.

Clairbourn School has a long history of partnering with its parents to ensure that the whole school community remains healthy, strong, and productive even in times of difficulty. As an educational institution, it is natural to turn to the experts and discover what they have to teach us so we’re mentally equipped for tough times. The good news is, there are plenty of proven ways to bounce back from, or thrive in hardship and break away from frustration, depression, and burnout. The data shows we have the ability to control up to 40% of our happiness, and the strategies we can learn are surprisingly accessible and achievable!

In a recent Medium article, “What People Who Live Long—and Through Pandemics, War, and More—Have in Common,” Dr. Leslie Martin, co-author of The Longevity Project, shared “… the way we respond to a test like this and the mental perspective we take can make a difference.” According to her findings, indulging in mental scripts of frustration, resentment, anxiety, and dire predictions does not help us survive and thrive. Paradoxically, being especially carefree and optimistic does not lead to longevity either.

“In terms of personality characteristics, the strongest predictor of a long life was being high on conscientiousness. ’Conscientiousness’ refers to someone who is organized, prudent, and persistent in their pursuits. When they take on a task, they don’t give up easily. Conscientious worriers tend to put their fretting to good use: They make choices or changes in response to their concerns. Their worrying is productive, not pointless,” says Martin.

Conscientiousness means an awareness of how to apply positive, persistent, and intentional behaviors which can help rebuild a sense of well being and happiness when they get knocked down by life circumstances.

In other words, they have frustration tolerance, and that is one of the most valuable learned behaviors we can cultivate as the disruptions from the pandemic continue. It can save us from developing addictive and self-medicating behaviors used to mask the discomfort from anxiety, depression, and fear.  Linda Esposito in a Psychology Today article, “Frazzled: High Anxiety and Low Frustration Tolerance,” shares that “Frustration tolerance is the ability to overcome obstacles and withstand stressful events. Low frustration tolerance occurs when a goal-oriented action is delayed or thwarted. Frustration tolerance is a learned behavior that can be strengthened with mindful attention, time, and patience….”

An exercise practice is proven response system to maintain well being and combat stress.
But how can we be patient and tolerant of hardship when the setbacks to our businesses, finances, education, and relationships are so severe? It can be tempting to believe our happiness and life satisfaction will never recover as we see the loss of life, burdens, and challenges mount up.  But research shows, that humanity is resilient. We can still learn to thrive or bounce back even if we face ongoing challenges, setbacks, and disruptions, or don’t get what we want.  Happiness is not dependent on a lack of stress or hardship. While it may disappear for a while, happiness comes back if one learns to cultivate helpful response systems and mental perspectives.

Harvard social psychologist Daniel Gilbert is a researcher of human happiness, and twenty five years ago, his entire support system fell apart. His marriage ended, his son started having problems, and both his mother and his mentor died in a short period of time. He recalls in the New York Times article “The Smiling Professor” by Claudia Dreifus, “What I soon found was that, as bad as my situation was, it wasn’t devastating. I went on. The truth is, bad things don’t affect us as profoundly as we expect them to. We certainly fear…the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a serious challenge to our health. But when those things happen, most of us will return to our emotional baselines more quickly than we’d predict. Humans are wildly resilient. We know that the best predictor of human happiness is human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends. We know that it’s significantly more important than money and somewhat more important than health. That’s what the data shows.”

Research data shows that threatening circumstances, affecting our income, location, age, or social status, only affect 10% of our overall happiness!

Anxiety expert, Dr. Jennifer Able’s blog post about “Anxiety During the Coronavirus” shared, “The happiest people are those who have lived through adversity, not those with an adversity free life. While it may take time, I believe that many of us will be a little bit happier when it’s over. About 50% of our happiness is genetic—and get this: Only 10% of what determines happiness is our circumstances – income, where you live, age, social status. This includes our stay-at-home order!  The good news is 40% is determined by intentional behaviors—things we can control right now.”

So what intentional behaviors can we learn to so we can thrive or bounce back from hardship?

A meditation practice can re-balance an
anxious mind
  • Refuse to give up
  • Affirm that your life has meaning and purpose
  • Use adversity as fuel for action
  • Adopt a daily schedule – routine is calming!
  • Make time to exercise and to get enough sleep
  • Follow through on small and achievable goals
  • Reframe your view – there are always others who have it much worse!
  • Strengthen your social connections using online channels
  • Count 3-5 things on a gratitude list each day
  • If you are religious, hand your concerns over to the higher power in your life
  • Practice 2-3 minutes of deep belly breathing to activate your parasympathetic nervous system (associate with resting and digesting with tons of beneficial side effects)
  • Practice a form of mindfulness meditation that works for you (a good place to start is the book Mediation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris)
  • Find a way to be generous with your time and resources to care for others
While about 1/3 of the strategies above fall into the self-care category, the last one on generosity is especially important to highlight. It is a happiness powerhouse! Not only can it give you meaning, a reason not to give up, and increase your feelings of connection, but it can also teach a valuable lesson to children. They are watching how the adults are handling these unusual circumstances, and it is so important to teach them how to face challenges, to persevere, and to turn outwards and to help others when we’re hurting—even if it is in the smallest of ways.

Taking care of others, by donating your time, attention, or resources is proven to boost well being more than self-care.
Dr. Laurie Santos explains in her recent Happiness Lab podcast, “BONUS: Laurie’s Personal Tips,” that self-care can help us feel better and have a stronger immune system, but treating ourselves doesn’t have as much impact on our happiness as we imagine it will. She says, “There is so much work suggesting that if we want to be happier, we need to be other-oriented rather than self-focused. What the research suggests is that [self-care] doesn’t work as well as other-care during the pandemic. The simple act of doing something nice for others, whether spending money…or spending your time on other people, can boost your well being more than if you spent that money or time on yourself. Our purpose in this crisis is to do whatever we can to help other people and to make other people’s lives better….”

So, take heart in the knowledge that only about 10% of your happiness is threatened by these circumstantial conditions. The other 40% can be under your control if you learn the response strategies that can help you and your family thrive or bounce back from hardship.

Clairbourn School Provides Private School Education for Preschool, Kindergarten, Elementary School, and Middle School Grades | Serving Families in the Pasadena, California, Area and Surrounding Cities (K-12 Private Schools) Clairbourn is a 501(c)3 charitable organization. Click here to request information.

Creating Scholars and Leaders with Heart
Private School Education for Preschool, Kindergarten, Elementary School, & Middle School Grades - Serving Families in the Pasadena Area and Surrounding Cities
Clairbourn is a 501(c)3 charitable organization. (K-12 Private Schools)