Resilience is the inner strength and reserves that enables us to endure in tough times, but more than that, it is the magic that enables us to recover, heal and become better people. In other words it’s that human quality which enables us to thrive and flourish.


Fortunately we all have resilience. That’s the good news – the bad news is that it often feels that this special quality fluctuates. Just when we need it most, it may feel like it escapes us.


So how do we hold on to it? What can we do to build our resilience to cope with tough times?


Our research on resilience in South African adults found that a foundation or core component of resilience is that of a strong sense of personal meaning and connection. The people we studied reported that when things become really bad the question inevitably arose in their minds: “Why carry on……. why not just give up?”


Our national weekend papers frequently carry stories of people who just give up – and often end their and their family’s lives with violence. Fortunately the majority of us haven’t just given up and we have coped through a range of adversity from days when everything goes wrong to profound tragedy and adversity.


Our research highlighted the importance of having clear meaning, connection and purpose in one’s life in order to be resilient. Examples of this fitted into one or more of three categories of significance – people, causes and faith.


Significant people:
Most often this referred to partners and children. An example was a single mother living in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town, who found deep meaning in raising her son without help or maintenance from his father, keeping him at school, off drugs and out of gangs.


To her horror one day, she realised that he was not doing household chores, was skipping school and ……… was into drugs. Her worst fear had come about.


She said that in her darkest moments of despair, she felt she had to persevere and could not give up, because if she did he would be lost to gangsterism, crime and drug dealing and his short life would come to a violent end.


So she walked a long and difficult road with him to his present rehabilitation and recovery. She persevered for his sake and found great satisfaction and joy in his recovery. She now has established a book club where mothers are encouraged to join and borrow books to read to their youngsters, and in so doing to forge and maintain tight family relationships. She believes that this will ultimately help reduce gangsterism and crime in her community.


Significant causes:
Causes can become “magnificent obsessions” that give purpose beyond oneself. Examples which were given included de-oiling of penguins; being an activist for people with disabilities; saving an endangered fynbos species from extinction; working with jobless people to give them income-producing skills.


Time spent on their activities was deeply significant. “Making a difference” was all they asked, and they seemed to be rewarded with a feeling of deep satisfaction.



Significant faith
Faith was reported to be very important in making sense of an adversity and tough times. Descriptions of their faith ranged from that of formal religion (Using terms like Catholic; Muslim; Born again Christian) to those who preferred to just describe their connection as “spiritual”.


It seemed to us that the label people used for their beliefs was less important than the feeling of deep connection and meaning they experienced, and how this played out in their lives. A commonly repeated refrain was “I will not be tested more than the ability I have been given”. One wag wryly added she sometimes just wished that she was not trusted so much by her Maker!


In summary, our research showed that significant people, causes and faith are important in providing the foundation for the inner resources and strength needed to deal with adversity. Connection, meaning and purpose in life underpin resilience. Everyone should strive to keep these connections strong in good times as well as tough times – how strong are yours?


If you would like to find significant  causes to which to give your time, effort and skills, and by so doing enhance your connection, meaning and grounding, click on this great South African web site: