Why should we invest in improving our resilience? Usually it is because we want to:
- Avoid having painful, distressing reactions to potentialy jarring occurrences that come up in our lives, and instead to stay reasonably calm and cool in the face of such experiences.
- Avoid ending up lastingly impaired by such experiences. That often quoted saying “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” Is only true when permanent or long-term damage isn’t done. (Think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.)
- If we fail to avoid being impaired, minimize the damage by developing effective “work-arounds”, and thus maintain our quality of life.
Researchers have provided us with many studies that show striking positive effects of resilience. A remarkable example that comes to mind is research showing that optimism predicts better outcomes of surgery, including recovery from a coronary bypass.
Still, studies in real life situations with large samples of real people that trace the effects of resilience over fairly long periods of time are rare. The work of Lydia Manning and her colleagues is one of the rare exceptions.
This team assessed the impact of resilience on the lives of older people (ranging from their fifties to their late nineties). She and her colleagues gave a remarkably large sample of more than 10,000 older people a simple measure of resilience, then tracked them for two years.
People in their study who started out more resilient were less likely to lose functions that enable them to live independently. When you are elderly and dealing with stress, you are not just at risk of feeling uncomfortable; you are at risk of losing control of your life. Resilience makes it more likely that you will stand up to the stresses of life, or, failing that, at least find ways you can stay in control of your life.
Many of you may feel that research on old people’s ability to avoid needing help to do everyday tasks of life has little or nothing to do with you. Well, 100 percent of young people who don’t die young end up old. Even before they get old, people who are important to them may face the vulnerabilities of old age. So this research is important to most of us.
If we want to meet the challenges of elder life with a strong armamentarium of resilience skills and habits, the best thing is to learn those skills and develop those habits early on so they are ingrained in us and can be called on whether you are young or old.