Lee Daniel Kravetz, a journalist with a background in counseling psychology, studied how people survived trauma for his book Supersurvivors. He found that when people face adversity, resilience is built in part through what he calls “grounded hope.”
Grounded hope has two parts. The “grounded” part refers to a realistic understanding of our lives and ourselves. Instead of painting a smiley face over what has happened, we bravely look at reality head-on. Seeing the situation clearly enables us to work toward recovery.
We cultivate the “hope” part by building confidence in our ability to shape what happens to us next. We start by asking, “Given what’s happened to me, what am I going to do about it? How can I build a better life on top of it?” Then we set goals for ourselves and find sources of motivation to pursue those goals.
At some point, most of us will face the task of recovering, rebuilding, and rebounding from adversity. Grounded hope can help us not just bounce back, but bounce forward.
Even the most jaded people have deep-seated benevolent assumptions about the way the world works. Research by psychologist Ronnie Janoff-Bulman suggests that most people share three important beliefs: The world is basically safe. Good things happen to good people. And I am a good person, so good things will happen to me. Collectively, she refers to these three beliefs as our “assumptive worldview.”
When trauma occurs, that assumptive worldview shatters. This can feel terrifying and painful, but it’s healthy to accept a new, more realistic perspective. The world is safe—but also unsafe. Good things happen to good people—but bad things do too. I am a good person—but that doesn’t protect me from trauma. We all face hardship at different times in our lives, and a more realistic worldview allows us to cope faster.
Principle 2: Find someone you can count on.
Decades of research points to a complex relationship between sufferers and supporters. Shortly after a trauma, people line up to help, but most don’t have the energy or resources to maintain their efforts. After a while, people cut back on the amount of emotional, monetary, and practical assistance they give. So despite receiving a lot of initial support, survivors are left with the perception that nobody cares.
Psychologists Krzysztof Kaniasty and Fran Norris researched this dynamic and found that the actual level of support received by trauma victims does not relate at all to their emotional well-being. The perception of ongoing support is far more important. Regardless of how many people surround you, believing that at least one person will always be there for you is one of the great building blocks of resilience.
Principle 3: Realize you don't have all the time in the world—so don’t waste it.
Death is one of our last great taboos. Although it’s all around us, we don’t talk or think about it much. But a near-death experience often brings us closer than we’d like to thoughts of mortality. It directs our focus to the legacy we’ll leave—the businesses we build, the works of art we create, the children we raise. It pushes us to ask the question, “What is truly important to me?”
All of a sudden achieving success by others’ standards isn’t as meaningful as it used to be. The writing's on the wall: life is short. A near-death experience has a particular way of bringing that message home and freeing us to do what is truly important to us.
Principle 4: Focus on planning, not positivity.
When we’re facing setbacks, friends may tell us to “just be positive.” The implication of this statement is that positive thinking will lead to positive results. The flip side is that negative thinking will lead to negative results—an assumption that may cause us to blame ourselves. If bad things keep happening, we must not be thinking positively enough.
In reality, positive thinking has little bearing on how we recover. Realistic thinking, on the other hand, can help create a sense of security. It allows you to ask, “What is the worst thing that can happen?” and then develop a plan to deal with it.
Principle 5: Practice future-focused forgiveness.
Misfortune can often leave us feeling hurt and angry—at ourselves or at others who’ve wronged us. And these emotions hold us back from trying to improve our situation.
Harboring grudges is associated with higher rates of health problems. On the other hand, practicing forgiveness is associated with greater life satisfaction and personal well-being and lower levels of depression and fewer health complaints.
Forgiving is often easier said than done. It can help to reframe forgiveness as a gift we give ourselves, as opposed to letting someone who’s wronged us off the hook. Forgiveness gives us permission to move on from anger, resentment, and pain and turn our sights toward creating a better future. Even if the past is filled with setbacks, failures, and adversity, the future can always offer hope.