Resilience and Adaptability

by Jon Schwartz January 3, 2017


aging-janI am a great admirer of the late Elizabeth Edwards. In her profession, Ms. Edwards was an attorney and also an ardent advocate for access to health care. But she is perhaps best known as the wife of former U.S. Senator and 2004 Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate John Edwards, whose political career ended in scandal. For Ms. Edwards herself, history may prove that it is her book, “Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities,” that will best resonate with people for generations to come.

Edwards wrote the book in response to parts of her life that she defined as beautiful – her career, children and marriage (for many years) provided tremendous amounts of joy to her. However, like many of us, she faced adversities. She lost her son at 16 to a car accident, her husband’s very public infidelity, her diagnosis of breast cancer, which ultimately was the cause of her death at age 61. I believe she wrote the book to stress the importance of bouncing back after difficulties and to inspire others to maintain a strong sense of resiliency throughout one’s life.

After reading her book, I could not help but think about the word, resilience. An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change is an incredible trait that we all possess.  No one escapes life without adversities. Perhaps the older we get, the more likely we are to have accumulated multiple trials and tribulations. However, as we age, we become more equipped to cope with and rebound from life’s challenges.  For this piece, I want to share with you some strategies that I have learned from Elizabeth Edwards and others on how we can all build upon our resilience.

Allow yourself to be optimistic. Optimism is not about being happy or positive all the time. Rather, optimism is simply seeing difficult times as temporary. Optimistic people tend to live longer, heal faster and generally have less depression and anxiety than those who are more pessimistic.

Shift your focus to what some call, “thin slices of joy.” This expression is suggestive that individuals should focus on the more simple pleasures of life. These thin slices could be a comforting conversation with a friend, a walk with your spouse or a lunch that you enjoy. Take time to recognize these small slices of joy.

Process difficult feelings. Take time to write about your traumas in life. Allowing yourself to release pent-up feelings can actually be very healing.  When difficult times happen, ask yourself, what have I learned about myself that I didn’t know before?

Connect with other(s). Studies have shown that being isolated, without human connection is the equivalent of smoking fifteen packs of cigarettes a day. People with social supports enjoy longer lives than those who do not.

Be present. We can all sharpen our ability to be present through as a little as 10 minutes of daily meditation.

One of the greatest lessons I continue to learn from the elder population is the importance of getting back up after life throws us challenges. I believe life is about the survival of those who are most adaptable. We are all strong, adaptable and resilient. Difficult times are temporary. We will persevere if we aim to be a bit more optimistic, present and grateful for life’s simple pleasures.


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