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Resilience is Underpinned by Optimism

by Victor Perton

"Human resilience absolutely makes me optimistic", Dr Cherie Hugo, Founder of The Lantern Project told me.

However, at a recent VicWater water industry conference, The Australian Broadcasting Commission's health commentator Norman Swan surprised everyone by describing the word resilience as "bullshit".

Looking back at earlier interviews, Norman had elaborated, saying, "I try and get rid of bullshit words like resilience and wellness... People are panicking if they're not resilient. They think 'I must be weak because I'm feeling bad.' It's just that sometimes you can suffer the slings and arrows of misfortune and other times you can't. All the things we define as disorders aren't disorders."

There's undoubtedly a feeling that, like sustainability, the word resilience is over-used. The numerous government agencies responsible for resilience and the billions spent don't make people feel any better or make the community more confident in the face of impending disaster.

A standard definition of resilience is "the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties."

Optimism is the underpinning of resilience.

At The Centre for Optimism, we have always believed it to be so.

This owed much to the wisdom of Professor Jane Burns, who told me, "People talk about tenacity and resilience and strength of character, but it is optimism that drives behaviour when on some days it would be easier to say "stop - I give up, it's too hard."

Resilience experts like those preparing The Wellbeing Project's "Wraw Resilience Report 2022" place "Flexible Thinking: Having an open and optimistic mindset" as one of their "5 Pillars of Resilience."

It makes sense. Resilience requires persistence through difficulties. Why would you persist unless you believed persistence would take you to a better place?

Professor Jane Burns

People talk about tenacity and resilience and strength of character but it is optimism that drives behaviour when on some days it would be easier to say “stop - I give up, it’s too hard. Optimism is believing in the impossible and then taking the steps to make it possible.”

Robert Moritz, Global Chair, PwC

“Embracing resilience fundamentally means building an optimism in people that will allow them to see failure as a step toward greater knowledge.  I believe building organizational resilience and the ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances is rising to the top of the business agenda, particularly given the challenges we’re seeing in the 21st century”

Dr Krystal Evans

"Optimism is empowering. It’s the belief that no matter what challenges you face, that you can make a difference. That your voice and your actions matter. It underpins resilience, determination and ambition"

Dr Emily Edwards,  Immunologist

"Being optimistic gives you the resilience and power to overcome life's challenges empowering you to live, learn, lead and ultimately make a difference to the lives of others."

Elaine Lipworth 

"We know people who have a penchant toward optimism are also more resilient in the face of a crisis."

George Osborne, Hume City Council

"Optimism powers resilience"

Professor David C. Strubler, Ph.D.

"Optimism and resilience are learned by repeatedly testing our identity against the fears that we face and overcome."  

Wendy A Harris QC

"What makes me optimistic is the galvanising effect of significant adversity; history demonstrates it gives people the opportunity to show what they are truly made of and can bring out the best human qualities in all of us."

Chris Norman, CEO, Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority

"The need for optimism has never been more important in dealing with the whole set of daily and long-term complex problems. Our resilience journey has been strengthened by an understanding of the critical need for optimism to underpin our approaches."

Matt Joski, Sheriff, Kewaunee County

“Optimism is the engine that powers resiliency. While there are many character strengths which we all possess, they are all deficient unless supported by and deeply rooted in Optimism. We are impacted in everything from personal relationships to physical health by the existence or absence of Optimism. This powerful trait is not one founded in the denial of reality or refusal of circumstances, but rather the unyielding belief that even our darkest hours bring with them hope and empowerment.”

Renee Branson, Author

"Optimism is the fuel and the faith that drives our resilience when our other resilience tools (reason, composure, vision) are temporarily out of reach. Optimism is the chair we sink into that we know will hold us until reason and composure catch up."

Michael Crossland, Speaker

"Optimism and resilience helps you not just survive but thrive through uncertain times."

Emily Jaksch

"Everyone faces adversity but it’s how you deal with it that defines the person. Your levels of optimism underpin your resilience and successful response to that adversity!"

Diana Hodgson, Dynamic Global HR Leader

“Leadership – the case for optimism?   People want to be inspired!  Given the future of work and the reality and pace of change as it evolves, optimism is an important trait to keep us moving productively forward.  Resilience is its companion.  As I see it, being an optimist doesn’t mean that you can’t see faults and flaws, but it means that you see them as obstacles to be overcome and gives a language and anchor from which to draw the energy to move forward.”

April Chepovskygold, Lawyer and Entrepreneur

“The Case for Optimism?  Belief in self and dreams inspires others to be the same….Resiliency.  You cannot inspire others with negativity.”

Libby Mears, CEO, Leisure Networks

"I am optimistic when I see the strength of communities who have overcome adversity, seeing people included who are usually excluded and when I see people willing to display gentleness, empathy, compassion and kindness."

Editorial Board, Cape Gazette

"The thing about optimism, however, is the inherent sense that no matter how bad things are, people have the resilience, determination and intelligence to seek and find solutions."

Professor Fiona Wood, Australian of the Year 2005

(I am an) "absolute rabid optimist.  Optimism coupled with resilience is an important combination."

Apoorva Deshpande

"Optimism is necessary to be resilient."

Simon Prunster, Energy & Emissions Specialist, Yarra Valley Water

“Optimism is the foundation of resilience, and resilience breeds determination. In combination these traits are powerful. Optimism hard wires you to search for a positive outcome, even when faced with a challenge. Resilience empowers you to return to the challenge, over and over again, even when it feels overwhelming. Determination provides the drive to solve the jigsaw puzzle. If this approach is successful and you overcome a challenge by delivering a positive outcome, then you can be part of a solution rather than perpetuating a problem. I try to leverage these traits in my professional life. Working in the field of energy and emissions reductions, my role (with the help of inspiring people) is to deliver positive economic outcomes with environmental benefits. Now that renewables are widely accepted as the cheapest form of new energy, I sense an increasing appetite to accelerate the clean energy transition from consumers, corporates and (most) governments. This gives me hope. I am optimistic that as a society, we will pull together with resilience and determination to address the biggest challenge we collectively face, the decarbonisation of our energy systems and economies.”

Maurits van Sambeek, MA

"What makes me optimistic is understanding the potential, resilience and creative powers of human beings, which can help us overcome virtually all turmoil and which gives us the #opportunity and free will to choose to create a better life, starting today!"

Emily Esfahani Smith, Author of The Power of Meaning

“Far from being delusional or faith-based, having a positive outlook in difficult circumstances is not only an important predictor of resilience—how quickly people recover from adversity—but it is the most important predictor of it. People who are resilient tend to be more positive and optimistic compared to less-resilient folks; they are better able to regulate their emotions; and they are able to maintain their optimism through the most trying circumstances.

“This is what Dr. Dennis Charney, the dean of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, found when he examined approximately 750 Vietnam war veterans who were held as prisoners of war for six to eight years. Tortured and kept in solitary confinement, these 750 men were remarkably resilient. Unlike many fellow veterans, they did not develop depression or posttraumatic stress disorder after their release, even though they endured extreme stress. What was their secret? After extensive interviews and tests, Charney found ten characteristics that set them apart. The top one was optimism. The second was altruism. Humor and having a meaning in life—or something to live for—were also important.”

Kate Ashmor 

"Being optimistic creates hope and promotes resilience, especially in the most difficult of times.

"An optimistic mindset says: "life will get easier, keep going, you have more to contribute - don't give up!"

"Being optimistic is the light that illuminates the path out of the darkness."

Read More "Wisdom on Optimism, Religion, Spirituality, Faith and Hope"

Jim Spigener, Dekra North America

"What makes me optimistic is seeing the resilience of people over my 69 years.

"Leaders who with self-motivation blaze paths for others to see the way. They transform organizations and light fires in people.

"We have a team of leaders in my company who do not know what "give in" means.

"I have had the honor of working with the best leaders in the world, and those are the leaders who understand the human spirit and realize that they have the ability to help people see what is possible.

"That level of optimism is the glue that holds the human organization together and propels it forward, my friend.

"Keep doing the good work.

"I am never going to retire. That, to me, means giving up. I am truly inspired by working with those who are dedicated to a better world."

Amanda Campbell, Bend Like Bamboo

"Resilience and our ability to be optimistic are our ability to know who we are, and who we can become, in the face of adversity."

Jodie Rogers, MD at Symbia

 "Optimistic Mindset: The opposite of a Pessimistic Mindset. It’s built on believing that you have control over how you cope with life’s vicissitudes. Those with this mindset recover from setbacks more effectively."

Ciara Lancaster, Author of Reimagine Change

"I’m a big believer in real optimism. Once you view the world through a trauma-informed lens, you recognise the importance of facing harsh realities and leveraging our innate, deep reserves of resilience to move through and overcome the situation."

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