Blossoming in the face of adversity takes a combination of factors, researchers say. Here's what to aim for.
In new and challenging situations, some people fold under pressure and some manage to squeak by. And then there are the people who really thrive—blossoming in the face of uncertainty or adversity. Now, researchers say they’ve pinpointed a number of personality traits and external factors that, when combined, can predict a person’s chances of thriving.
For their new paper, published in European Psychologist, scientists from the University of Bath reviewed a wide variety of research on what makes people thrive in all types of circumstances—physically, professionally, athletically, artistically, and academically, to name a few. From those studies, they came up with two lists of variables—nine personal traits and six outside influences—that are common among people who continuously grow, learn, and succeed in life.
People don’t have to possess every component on these lists in order to thrive, say the authors, but a combination of a few from each list could certainly help. That formula could include any or all of the following:
The person should be …
- spiritual or religious
- someone who enjoys learning
- socially competent
- someone with self-confidence and self-esteem
The person should have …
- support from employers, family, or others
- a manageable level of challenges and difficulties
- a calm environment
- a high degree of autonomy
- the trust of others
These lists may not be very surprising—but the authors say that until now, there has been no real consensus for exactly what characteristics and circumstances help people thrive, or what we can do to increase our chances of doing so.
To sum up their research, lead author Daniel Brown, PhD, now a sport and exercise scientist at the University of Portsmouth, says that the act of thriving seems to come down to “feeling good about life and yourself and being good at something.”
While some people maybe more naturally prone to thriving than others, Brown says there are things we can do to cultivate these important traits within ourselves. For starters, he recommends relying on internal motivations (things that are truly important to you) rather than external ones (things society says should be important to you), and trying to always look at new situations as opportunities for gain and growth.
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There may be ways we can encourage thriving in others, as well—like our kids, our partners, or our employees. “It’s likely to be important for individuals to feel they have a choice in what they are doing, that they hold close and supportive relationships with people around them, and that they perceive themselves having some level of competence in the tasks they are completing,” Brown told Health via email.
More studies are needed to determine which factors are most important for thriving in specific scenarios, and the differences between thriving under serious adversity versus everyday stress, the authors wrote in their paper. But they hope their research is a good stepping-stone for understanding the psychology behind what it takes to be our best selves, no matter what life throws our way.