This blog is part of the series on the outcome of the research on resilience which we carried out with people at work in South Africa to find out on how they deal with adversity, cope and thrive.


This blog describes the first principle of Building Resilience that came out of the research. This principle is called “Connect to you purpose and meaning in life” and concrns purpose, meaning and connection in one’s life. It encompasses the reason the individual has to persevere when times become really difficult; when there is a feeling of desperation and giving up seems the easiest way out. In such times, the answer the person has or creates becomes the enduring reason to persist.


We have all wrestled with the question of what gives meaning and purpose to our lives and for many people this search is ongoing. The hum- drum issues of paying bills, resolving work problems, cleaning our homes, and so on, easily distracts from the focus of living an authentic life aimed at fulfilling a higher purpose. In times of adversity however, this becomes very important as it directly addresses the issue of why persevere rather than just giving up. Having a strong sense of purpose and meaning forms the foundation from which coping, healing and renewal after adversity is possible.


Our research found that purpose and meaning is typically found in one or more of three categories of significance – people, causes and faith



Significant people most often referred to children and partners for whom there was deep caring and love: to show their love; provide for them, live up to their expectations or set an example; or simply “not let them down”.



Significant causes were diverse and examples given were de-oiling penguins; raising funds to sustain a shelter for homeless people; adopting an AIDS orphan; preserving indigenous fynbos in the Western Cape. One participant in the research described her passionate commitment to a significant cause as her “magnificent obsession”.












Significant faith was frequently cited and examples ranged from formal religion which gave a powerfully felt deep connection to a personal relationship with their Creator, to a less formal feeling of connection to the Universe and the interrelatedness of life which also gave strong feelings of purpose to life.


In the face of adversity, the personal meaning assigned to living sustains and provides the motivation to persevere. This connection and personal belief system was sometimes expressed as the adversity having a higher purpose or meaning, even if it was not clear at the time. For example on the death of a child, the young father said: “I don’t know why this happened, but I do know that there is a reason for everything. So I have to accept it and carry on”.


This principle of resilience: “Connect to your purpose and Meaning in Life” also incorporates the belief that by persevering through the adversity and tough times, people will emerge stronger, more resourceful and better for the experience. For example, “special children have special parents” was the mantra-type of explanation cited in one incident for coping with severe demands placed on a financially struggling family who were rearing children with learning difficulties.


Developing life goals related to one’s purpose and meaning is a very important strategy to strength this principle in one’s life. This was demonstrated by an entrepreneur, who when he was experiencing significant and prolonged financial business difficulties, repeatedly publicly committed himself to financing and building a temple for worship. He frequently reminded himself of this vision, and talked in public of his plans, how it would be built and what it would look. This goal helped connect him to what he expressed as his purpose in life, and energized and focused his energies to persevere in what he described as his “dark night”.


How strong is your purpose and meaning in life, and what can you do to strengthen it?