How to Develop Resilience


Resilience and Your Well-being

Resilience can mean the ability to resist being damaged or deformed by traumas or destructive forces. On the other hand, resilience can also mean readily “bouncing back” or recovering from those traumas or destructive forces.

Resilience and well-being are fundamentally related (Davydov et al., 2010; Windle, 2011), and that relationship is a two way street…

  • Being highly resilient will make you happier: Resilience is a predictor of well-being outcomes including 
    • Depression (Loh, Schutte, & Thorsteinsson, 2014)
    • Job satisfaction (Luthans, Avolio, Avey, & Norman, 2007) 
    • Overall subjective well-being (Cohn, Fredrickson, Brown, Mikels, & Conway, 2009; Liu, Wang, Zhou, & Li, 2014).
  • Higher well-being promotes stronger resilience: Positive emotions can promote greater resilience because they promote flexible thinking (Isen, Daubman, & Nowicki, 1987).

The good news is while you are born with a baseline level of resilience, higher resilience can be developed. How resilient are you? You can take the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC, Connor & Davidson, 2003) and find out. This test measures your resilience as a trait, and is widely considered the “gold standard” of resilience measures.


Resilience as a Process

There are three general patterns that reflect resilience: (Bonanno, 2004, 2005; Masten, Best, & Garmezy, 1990).

  1. Functioning well under adverse conditions; 
  2. A relatively quick recovery to normal functioning after facing adverse conditions; and 
  3. Developing in the face of adversity 

 Figure 1. Patterns of Recovery from Trauma

Resource Areas for Resilience

Resilience is inherently related to the resources that you can draw on to overcome adversity (e.g. Richardson, 2002; Werner, 1995). These resources come in 3 types of factors:

  • Individual Factors 
    • It’s with this level that psychologists are typically concerned.
    • Psychological and neurobiological factors.
    • Typically investigations of personality and coping styles that mediate the relationship between adversity and well-being (Luthar et al., 2000; Masten, 2007)
    • You can take the test above to get your baseline!
  • Social Factors
    • Concerns the social relationships one has and whether an individual can call on and expect support in times of crisis.
    • These can involve family, friends, coworkers, or really anyone in one’s social network who could provide social, emotional, and even financial support. It can come from both work and non-work sources.
    • Having such relationships can be an important determinant of whether an individual can cope with major stressors such as the loss of a job, the dissolution of a marriage, or chronic physical illness.
    • It’s primarily in the form of either emotional support (e.g., listening and providing empathy) or instrumental support (e.g., tangible assistance aimed at solving a problem).
    • (Adams, King, and King et al., 1996)
  • Community Factors
    • Which communities are most likely to be resilient in the face of tragedies such as terrorist attacks, natural disasters, or even economic downturns and takes into account economic, institutional, ecological, and infrastructure capacities.
    • For example, how well integrated are the emergency services in terms of communication and coordination.
    • (Cutter et al., 2008; Norris, Stevens, Pfefferbaum, Wyche, & Pfefferbaum, 2008; Murphy, 2007).


    Developing Resilience

    Developing resilience comes about in two ways, “naturally” and intentional practice.

    Life History

    Whether in your control or not, whether intentional or not, your level of resilience is impacted by your childhood (e.g. Masten, 2001; Masten & Tellegen, 2012; Obradovic et al., 2009). Poverty, disease, or abuse is typically associated with lower levels of resilience later in life (Schibli, Wong, Hedayati, & D’Angiulli, 2017; Windle, 2011).

    However, experiences of stress and hardship can, for some people, be an opportunity to learn and grow and become more ready to meet the next challenge. (Crane & Searle, 2016; Duckworth, 2016; Goldstein, 2008; Rutter, 1999).

    Resilience-Training Programs

    You can also create intentional practices to influence your level of resilience. Resilience-training programs have utilized several different approaches to increasing individual levels of resilience and have shown to be very effective (Yost, 2016). 

    One of the most famous developmental interventions for children is the Penn Resiliency Program (Gillham, Reivich, Jaycox, & Seligman, 1995). It’s based on CBT. In this program, the goal is to help participants develop cognitive and emotional skills that they can utilize when encountering setbacks.

    Methods include:

    • Encouraging a growth mindset
    • Deliberative practice
    • Meditation
    • Teaching coping strategies, such as decatastrophizing
    • Providing social support


    Other Constructs of Resilience

    Psychological capital 

    PsyCap is argued to be a set of four psychological factors associated with overcoming obstacles that together form a higher-order construct (Luthans et al., 2007; Youssef & Luthans, 2007). Resilience in this model is often simply described as the capacity to adapt in the face of adversity.

    The psychological factors are:

    • Self-efficacy
    • Optimism
    • Hope
    • Resilience


    Perseverance in the face of challenges and experiencing passion in the pursuit of long-term goals (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007). Despite an apparent relationship between resilience and grit, there’s actually a trivial relationship between the two measures.



    1. Adams, G., King, L., & King, D. (1996). Relationships of job and family involvement, family social support, and work-family conflict with job and life satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology, 81, 411–420.
    2. Bonanno, G. A. (2004). Loss, trauma, and human resilience: Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events? American Psychologist, 59, 20-28.
    3. Bonnano, G. A. (2005). Resilience in the face of potential trauma. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 135-138.
    4. Cohn, M. A, Fredrickson, B. L., Brown, S. L., Mikels, J. A, & Conway, A. M. (2009). Happiness unpacked: Positive emotions increase life satisfaction by building resilience. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 9, 361–8.
    5. Connor, K. M., & Davidson, J. R. T. (2003). Development of a new resilience scale: The Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC). Depression and Anxiety, 18, 76–82.
    6. Crane, M. F., & Searle, B. J. (2016). Building resilience through exposure to stressors: The effects of challenges versus hindrances. Journal of Occupational Healthy Psychology , 21, 468–479.
    7. Cutter, S., Barnes, L., Berry, M., Burton, C., Evans, E., Tate, E., & Webb, J. (2008). A place-based model for understanding community resilience to natural disasters. Global Environmental Change, 18, 598-606.
    8. Davydov, D. M., Stewart, R., Ritchie, K., & Chaudieu, I. (2010). Resilience and mental health. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 479-495.
    9. Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. New York: Scribner.
    10. Gillham, J., Reivich, K., Jaycox, L., & Seligman, M. E. P. (1995). Prevention of depressive symptoms in schoolchildren: Two-year follow-up. Psychological Science, 6, 343-351.
    11. Goldstein, B. (2008). Skunkworks in the embers of the cedar fire: Enhancing resilience in the aftermath of disaster. Human Ecology, 36, 15-28.
    12. Gross, J. J. (2015). Emotion regulation: Current status and future prospects. Psychological Inquiry, 26, 1–26.
    13. Isen, A., Daubman, K., Nowicki, G. (1987). Positive affect facilitates creative problem solving. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 1122-1131.
    14. Liu, Y., Wang, Z., Zhou, C., & Li, T. (2014). Affect and self-esteem as mediators between trait resilience and psychological adjustment. Personality and Individual Differences, 66, 92-97.
    15. Loh, J. M. I., Schutte, N. S., & Thorsteinsson, E. B. (2014). Be happy: The role of resilience between characteristic affect and symptoms of depression. Journal of Happiness Studies, 15, 1125–1138.
    16. Luthans, F., Avolio, B., Avey, J., & Norman, S. (2007). Positive psychological capital: Measurement and relationship with performance and satisfaction. Personnel Psychology, 60, 541-572.
    17. Luthar, S. S., Cicchetti, D., & Becker, B. (2000). The construct of resilience: A critical evaluation and guidelines for future work. Child Development, 71, 543-562.
    18. Masten, A. (2001). Ordinary magic. American Psychologist, 56, 227-238.
    19. Masten, A. (2007). Resilience in developing systems: Progress and promise as the fourth wave rises. Development and Psychopathology, 19, 921-930.
    20. Masten, A., Best, K., & Garmezy, N. (1990). Resilience and development: Contributions from the study of children who have overcome adversity. Development and Psychopathology, 2, 425-444.
    21. Masten, A. & Tellegen, A. (2012). Resilience in developmental psychopathology: Contributions of the Project Competence Longitudinal Study. Development and Psychopathology, 24, 345-361.
    22. Murphy, B. (2007). Locating social capital in resilient community-level emergency management. Natural Hazards, 41, 297-315.
    23. Norris, F., Stevens, S., Pfefferbaum, B., Wyche, K., & Pfefferbaum, R. (2008). Community resilience as a metaphor, theory, set of capacities, and strategy for disaster readiness. American Journal of Community Psychology, 41, 127-150.
    24. Obradovic, J., Long, J., Cutuli, J. J., Chan, C. K., Hinz, E., Heistad, D., & Masten, A. (2009). Academic achievement of homeless and highly mobile children in an urban school district: Longitudinal evidence on risk, growth, and resilience. Development and Psychopathology, 21, 49-3518.
    25. Richardson, G. (2002). The meta-theory of resilience and resiliency. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58, 385-397.
    26. Rutter, M. (1999). Resilience concepts and findings: Implications for family therapy. Journal of Family Therapy, 21, 119-144.
    27. Schibli, K., Wong, K., Hedayati, N., & D’Angiulli, A. (2017). Attending, learning, and socioeconomic disadvantage: Developmental cognitive and social neuroscience of resilience and vulnerability. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1396, 19–38.
    28. Werner, E. (1995). Resilience in development. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 4, 81-85.
    29. Windle, G. (2011). What is resilience? A review and concept analysis. Reviews in Clinical Gerontology, 21, 152–169.
    30. Youssef, C. M., & Luthans, F. (2007). Positive organizational behavior in the workplace: The impact of hope, optimism, and resilience. Journal of Management, 33, 774-800.
    31. Yost, P. (2016). Resilience practices. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 9, 475-479.


    Leave a comment