What can we learn from adversity?
Joseph Campbell once said ‘Opportunities to find deeper strength within comes when life is most challenging‘.
Our office was broken into last week. We think it was the work of an organised gang, who use children to help with their crime. It feels pretty challenging.
If you’ve ever been robbed, you’ll know the layers of pain which twist and turn from belly to head and back again. It feels personal – a violation, even if you never set eyes on the theives. Besides the loss (whatever it is), there’s all the cost and effort of reporting to the police and insurers, the probable battle to get rightful compensation, the finding and buying of replacements, and of course the time doing all this when you had other things to be getting on with.
Perhaps the worst of all this is the betrayal of trust which can have a huge impact on wellbeing. A ‘lockdown’ mentality prompted by fear may make us feel safer, but it nearly always costs of a little of our own freedom.
So what’s the most resilient way to respond to such misfortune?
Odd as it may sound, the first and easiest step is take is to check what there is to be grateful for.
Happiness is relative, and hopefully you can imagine something worse than whatever has happened. So as long as it’s true that it ‘could have been worse’, you’ll be able to deflate a little of the pain.
In our case, the thieves knew exactly what they wanted – they didn’t trash the place but went directly for two high spec. Macintosh machines, breaking the security locks chaining them to their desks. Fortunately, both of them had backed up files recently, none of the peripheral gear was nicked, and one of the two was insured.
A problem shared really is a problem halved – at least according to a study by Prof. Sarah Townsend at the USC Marshall School of business. You’re needs will change as you work through the experience from initial shock right through to the final acceptance that allows you to move on.
The ‘Happiness Hub’ is of course a community designed around mutual support as we all work to promote ‘the greater good’ in our different ways, so there’s a strongly resilient base. The downside is that the injustice feels magnified because the film-maker and designer who lost their kit had already sacrificed profits in order to support good causes, and so could least afford the losses.
Little gestures of thoughtfulness can really make a difference here – the odd sympathetic text, a box of chocolates, a shared cup of tea – they’re all reminders the world is a loving place too. These aren’t just for the day itself, they need to be applied regularly for a little while, like a series of gentle massages helping traumatised muscles begin to relax.
Whenever a storm passes, there’s work to be done. Throw yourself into the repairs, whether it’s restoring order, fixing damage, or improving things to weather future onslaughts better. Being active and notching up some visible achivements will make you feel better.
This is where it’s so important to find a good balance between taking sensible precautions and becoming a hostage to fear. The theologian W Shedd put it nicely when he said ‘a ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for’. We’ve upgraded our locks, and may opt for an alarm, but for an organisation promoting openness and community spirit, CCTV feels like a step too far. So we’ll keep putting the good ship Trust out to sea.
Joseph Campbell’s words about the benefits of adversity are often (though not always) true – even though it can be hard to accept when you’re in it because it takes time. The learning and new strength only becomes apparent when something better unexpectedly results, or a similar challenge shows up which you’re better prepared to handle.
At the Happiness Hub, we’re using the burglary as a prompt to tell each other stories of triumph over adversity – partly to see what we can learn from each other, and partly because the new bonds forged when we gather to tell each other stories like these make our little community stronger. And finally, there must always be…
Winston Churchill consistently ranks as one of Britain’s greatest leaders, and the thing he’s best known for is his dogged optimism. In his own words, ‘success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts’. Life will always be full of highs and lows, and a key part of staying resilient is to simply acknowledge that fact, and to know that better times will come.
The law of attraction suggests what happens to us is strongly linked to what we believe. Statistically this must be true, as behaviour reflects the assumptions we project into the world, and people tend to mirror the behaviours they see. So if you’re feeling strong emotions, you’ll see the world through that lens, and people are likely to respond accordingly.
So to complete our journey through the challenge of our burglary and losses, we’re holding the expectation that the insurers will be reasonable, the community will stay welcoming and that we’ll end up stronger together as a result. We also know that people love to be helpful, and life is full of surprises – so who knows? There may be somebody out there reading this who can help our designer and film-maker back onto their feet by donating a redundant machine or something. It might happen. Just putting it out there!
The sharp eyed among you will have noticed our resilient response to the trauma of burglary was based on the 5 Ways of Wellbeing – I didn’t realise that’s what I was doing as I wrote the piece, but on review, it’s very clear.
Gratitude is an aspect of noticing
Sharing is all about connecting
Practicality is about being active
Learning does what it says on the tin, and
Hope appeals to the joy we find in giving
If you’ve got a story to tell about how you’ve dealt with adversity, or any comments on this one, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll publish them below this.