Dr. Rick Hanson’s book, “Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness” is an incredible, well-thought-out account of how we can utilize mindfulness and perspective to develop a greater presence and optimize our talents, skills, and ultimately our time on this planet. Its conversational writing style and situational relatability make it an impactful read for college students, providing readers with tangible steps to actively pursue better results in all they do.
Resilience is the ability to leverage the positive aspects of adverse situations to return to a state of equilibrium after having suffered from an uncomfortable or traumatic experience. As such, resiliency is not rooted in positive experiences but rather in making the best of complex, challenging situations. As we push forward in our lives, working towards a brighter future, we encounter formidable obstacles in our efforts. Our innocence is punctuated by run-ins with disheartening experiences like breakups, bullying, depression, financial stress, death, pain, and drugs, to mention a few. The world can be a heavy place, and we refer to difficult experiences that traumatize us as “baggage” for a good reason – they weigh us down.
Guiding us along in our quest for happiness and resilience enters Dr. Rick Hanson. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and New York Times best-selling author. He claims that resilience can be developed using a matrix of sorts, declaring that all humans need safety, satisfaction, and connection. He says we can pursue these goals via the practices of recognizing what’s true, resourcing ourselves, regulating our thoughts, feelings, and actions, and relating skillfully to others and the wider world. This matrix results in twelve principles to foster resiliency: compassion, mindfulness, learning, grit, gratitude, confidence, calm, motivation, intimacy, courage, aspiration, and generosity.
Reading “Resilient” during my weekend between meetings and work for my role as an intern at Turning Green, I read Hanson’s book with a particular perspective that sought to relate his writing and teachings to my work advocating for environmental sustainability causes and identify principles relevant to my student peers. I highly encourage you to check out the book for yourself, but here are a few takeaways that I found to be especially striking:
Finding the Words
A key aspect of growing up is discovering the words to verbalize one’s thoughts, feelings, and needs and also developing the ability to do so accurately and persuasively. Dr. Hanson begins the book by outlining how compassion for yourself is fundamental to having compassion for others, as well as increasing your own vitality, which can improve many other traits and keep you in a responsive rather than reactive mode. Further, Dr. Hanson establishes the principle that the more influence we have upon someone, the more responsibility we have to treat them well. If that’s true, who else do you have more influence upon than yourself, making dozens if not hundreds of decisions that affect your life on a daily basis? A key aspect of compassion for oneself is understanding what one needs out of the three human requirements of safety, satisfaction, and connection. Once you’re aware of what you need, you can attentively and effectively communicate to others what you’re feeling and account for your discomfort in your own behavior.
Speak Wisely and Have a Wise Heart
Dr. Hanson lists out five aspects that constitute “wise speech.” To qualify as wise speech, it must be aimed to help and not hurt, be true, accurate, and honest, be beneficial, be timely, and not be harsh, belittling, or mean. Ideally, it is also wanted by the receiver, but that point is optional. I like this mental checklist because it also provides some perspective: what are your aims in the conversation? Is now the best time to make this point, or would it be better to make another point first or simply exercise some patience? On the topic of patience is the second aspect of this idea – having a wise heart. To have a wise heart is having the ability to choose a greater happiness over a lesser one. It is also the ability to see both the good and the bad of any given situation and hold them both in balance. Rick Hanson put it well when he states, “we cannot end desire – the question is whether we can learn to desire well. Understanding that liking and wanting are distinct experiences, one based on enjoyment and the other upon lacking, how can we learn to exercise patience, perspective, and confidence to optimize the time we are afforded?
Dr. Hanson refers to learning about learning as the “superpower of superpowers.” The logic is that if you can learn to truly internalize your best experiences, then you’ll slowly grow into that ideal version of yourself. This seems especially relevant in the field of environmentalism at the moment, where any one victory or defeat seemingly pales in comparison to the large-scale threat of climate change. To make the most of our best experiences, Dr. Hanson coins the four-step process of “HEALing”: Having a beneficial experience, Enriching it and feeling it fully, Absorbing and receiving the experience, and Linking it to replace painful experiences. In addition to individual healing, collective healing for many communities is also necessary. In the U.S., the polarized, partisan nature of our politics seems to inhibit environmental conservation from receiving the detailed response it deserves, devolving into yet another issue question on “what political party are you” quizzes. As we recover from our setbacks, we can leverage this as an opportunity to mend the broken politics surrounding environmentalism to reframe it as a nonpartisan issue. Looking out for the environment is the right thing to do, and we’ll take all the help that we can get. Perhaps these HEAL steps can be used to repair relationships with oftentimes unfriendly corporate and governmental entities and incentivize involvement from nontraditional partners.
Stay With It
Life is not linear. Neither is progress on environmental issues. With time not necessarily on our side, hundreds of years of conservation efforts can be destroyed by a single spill, fire, or other disaster. This is upsetting, frightening, and demoralizing. Reading Dr. Hanson’s book, he diagnoses a combination of grit and gratitude for getting through tough times. Hanson defines grittiness as tough resourcefulness in the soul and spirit based on agency, determination, and increased vitality. Reminding oneself of what you have control over, whether it’s a project, schedule, or even just your thoughts, gradually helps us recognize our reasonable autonomy. This autonomy isn’t rebellious but instead based on determination, patience, and tenacity. We can also use the mental resources of perspective and remembering to adjust conditions in our minds to allow us to respond more calmly and attentively to matters. Integrating gratitude strengthens our sense of autonomy by recognizing what is true and good in addition to what is true and bad. Dr. Hanson states that pleasure is a quick way to destress and recover from an upset and that internal pleasures crowd out external pleasures. As such, a great way to bring about immediate, wholesome pleasures is to invoke gratitude for what you already have. For environmentalists, we can be grateful for every new member of our movement, the surge of youth who reply that the environment is one of their most critical issues, politicians who are bold enough to think beyond borders, and hard-fought wins on environmental legislation. This doesn’t mean we don’t also feel disappointment and despair, but it sets us up on a path towards resilience rather than madness.