Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Weathering the Storm: Why Are Some People So Much Better Than Others at Bouncing Back?

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Weathering the Storm: Why Are Some People So Much Better Than Others at Bouncing Back?

Article excerpt

Shit happens. Life throws emotional, physical and professional crises at all of us. Naturally, some lives are more insulated than others (no one would claim David Cameron had a tough start in life). But everyone can get knocked for six. What differentiates people is their ability to bounce back. Psychologists, social scientists and policy wonks are increasingly interested in the notion of resilience. This means, for people or communities, pretty much what it means for objects or substances, which, according to the OED, is being "able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching or being compressed".

The US psychologist Martin Seligman recently presented to the government's Strategy Unit a scheme designed to increase resilience among young people. The Penn Resiliency Programme gives adolescents the tools to cope with difficult circumstances by building optimism and enhancing longer-term thinking. It has proved highly effective as a protection against depression. But while resilience can be improved, a good chunk of it comes down to a variable that Seligman calls "grit". Similarly, studies of social mobility show that although there are a number of interventions that can improve life chances, there is always a substantial residual factor. Back in 1990, the British sociologist Doria Pilling turned the usual approaches on their head and studied not losers, but winners: people who had triumphed despite huge disadvantages. …

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