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“Surviving is Important; Thriving is Elegant” Maya Angelou Image from

Is it possible to not just survive the difficult times, but also to thrive as a result of the challenge? Research from Drs. Martin Seligman (Penn), Barbara Frederickson (UNC Chapel Hill), Sonja Lyubomirsky (UC Riverside) and others shows that it is definitely possible to have that silver lining in the rain clouds! But how?

We  don’t want to trivialize suffering or the pain that comes with many challenges that we face, but the fact remains that many people who suffer are also able to learn life lessons, that in the end, make them stronger, more resilient, and even happier.


One strategy that Dr. Seligman uses is called Thinking like an Optimist. He studied how people with optimistic outlooks approach problems and found that they typically think three things that help them to overcome the challenge:

  1. This event is only temporary
  2. This event involves only one aspect of my life
  3.  I can do something about it

Think about a current or past challenge that you’ve faced and apply the 3 steps above. How does it change your outlook or perhaps the outcome?


Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky explores how we can live our best lives in her book, The How of Happiness (2008).  Her research reveals that 50% of your happiness level (typically) is determined genetically,  10% only (surprisingly) is determined by life circumstances and a full 40% can be determined by your own actions! This is a lot that you have control over which is good news! But how?

Researchers at UC Berkeley including Drs. Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas explore the “equation” to maximize this 40%.

Increase Happiness = Generate Positive Emotions + Develop Positive Relationships – Reduce and Manage Stress

Strategies for each of these areas can be found at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center’s In Action website! Explore the site and try some of the activities there to make the most of the 40% you can control!


Dr. Leo Flanagan at the Center for Resilience Advisory (CFRA) has worked with folks in all sorts of circumstances – from 9/11 and Sandy Hook first responders to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to this college project, helping them/us to navigate a way out of burnout and towards thriving in our work and lives. Asking yourself these questions and answering them honestly can help you reflect on your current situation and realign it based on the underlying values that these questions reveal. Ask yourself:

  1. What do you want?
  2. What are you doing to achieve it?
  3. How is that working?
  4. What is your plan?

Another version that could also generate important reflections is:

  1. What are you interested in now?
  2. What are you doing to experience more of it?
  3. How is that working?
  4. What is your plan?

Working through difficult and trying challenges doesn’t have to end in defeat. In fact, that’s what this project is all about! There are MANY things we can do to control our response to adversity that we all will face at some points in our lives. Try some of these ideas and see if you can make a difference. If you are still struggling, check out the section on getting more help! Sometimes even with the best of intentions we all need a helping hand! That is actually a strength – knowing when to get help and being willing to do so!

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