Text Size
22 Nov 2023

Resilience – what is it?


How CoVID-19, among other unforeseen challenges and factors, put Resilience on the ‘ageing and wellbeing radar’ locally and globally as a ‘must have’ tool for managing unprecedented change. 

Background:  Resilience in the making

In 2019 The Selwyn Foundation (“Selwyn”) developed a series of resources directed at understanding more fully how resilience was an important part of skill development for those seeking to age well.  Selwyn, focused on Resilience in the context of ageing and wellbeing. Little did anyone know that early in 2020, with the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, that the learnings would be so relevant and useful.     

Given the importance of resilience at that time—particularly for older people, caregivers, people in lockdown and those doing their utmost to keep positive at this challenging time. 

Fast forward to 2023 and the lessons learned at the beginning of the pandemic still apply.  Not just for dealing with the continuation of CoVID-19 but the raft of other natural (and unnatural) events that have been part of living in challenging times. 

The definition itself is empowering

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health issues or workplace and financial stressors. It is often described as "bouncing back" from difficult experiences.  It also means tapping into “the well” or the resolve to remain upbeat and connected. 

The American Psychologists Association defines resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. These sources of threat can be mental, physical, social, as well as spiritual. When it comes to the power of resilience in older people, often ‘their carers’ - such as family/whānau, friends or health professionals ‘hold’ the resilience when a person is particularly frail. Resilience building techniques come from the ability to share experiences and results. Stories, it seems, have both an empowering and therapeutic effect in guiding oneself or others to a point of recovery and re-engagement.

 Kindness is part of the equation

Kindness, compassion, and giving are known to boost mental well-being and resilience.  Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end there are shared benefits and opportunities to consider.   Kindness also applies to how you treat yourself as well as others.  Stressful times produce commensurate anxiety and frustration. 

One of the contributors to Selwyn’s information sharing initiative on resilience was expert Dr Lucy Hone.  An internationally sought-after professional speaker and award-winning academic, her refreshing approach to bereavement is informed by the death of her 12-year-old daughter in a motor vehicle crash, and is available online via Coping With Loss courses and her best-selling book, Resilient Grieving. Her work is regularly featured in global media, including Ted Talks; The Guardian, The Washington Post and the BBC. 


She says resilience is helpful to:

  • Overcome the obstacles of childhood (poverty, abuse, neglect)
  • Steer through everyday stresses (injury, bullying, rage, anxiety)
  • Adapt to major life changes/loss (death, divorce, illness)
  • Reach out (take on new challenges)

She recommends taking the time to choose where you focus your energy and attention. Particularly at a times of uncertainty.  She recommends being mindful to understand that struggle is part of life. 

This includes being:

  • Focused on what you hope to happen, or achieve, each day. 
  • Kind and helping and avoid harmful thoughts, actions or experiences.


Gratitude leads to resilience. 

Three mind sets, Dr Lucy says, help to hone into the benefits of stopping to acknowledge reasons to be thankful.  She recommends taking the time each day working with these formulas. 

3GT = 3 Good Things

HTGS = Hunt the Good Stuff

ATG = Accept the good. 

Of late Dr Lucy has used her vast knowledge of resilience to focus on ‘better’ ways to grieve with the aim of helping people through the grieving process but still allowing people to live.

Resilience can be channelled to address situations where grieving gets in the way and:


  • You're desperate to get your life back on track while continuing to honour your loved ones.
  • You're done with feeling judged, helpless, and lonely, and are sick of people telling you you're not grieving 'properly'!
  • You're determined to do everything you can to protect your family, key relationships, your career and even your sanity.

Telling or remembering stories is powerful

Buddhist Richard von Sturmer is a poet, songwriter and Ministry of Education adviser. He wrote the lyrics to the Blam Blam Blam song There is No Depression in New Zealand.  He contributed to the Selwyn project by sharing his thoughts around this particular story:     

A king once summoned his wise man and presented him with a golden ring. He told the wise man to engrave four words on the inside band of the ring, words which would give him solace in times of difficulty and act as a warning in times of happiness. He then added the usual proviso: “And if you can’t do this for me, then it’s off with your head!” The wise man went away, and on the following day returned and presented the ring to his ruler. On the inside band there were inscribed the four words: “This too will pass”.

The point being that even in the darkest and most challenging of moments there will always be hope. Sometimes it takes effort and sometimes it takes support to find ‘it’. Whatever it takes is worth focusing on and then moving through. 

The specifics of the people involved is thought to be based on a Persian adage passed down throughout time and made famous in 1852 with writer Edward Fitzgerald's “Solomon's Seal”. In it, King Solomon aims to create a sentence that will always be true – whether times are good or bad. In it, he responds “This, too, will pass away”.

Picking up on this story and Richard von Sturmer’s perspective The School of Life is a global organisation helping people to lead more fulfilled lives. Specifically, it is a social media company that offers advice about life issues.

Their 5-element formula for creating resilience-building capabilities picks up on the notion of This Too Will Pass.


From the viewpoint that: 

  • Every trial we face is temporary. For now, we struggle and suffer; in time our pains will lessen and fade.  Even the longest and blackest of nights must be followed, eventually, by dawn.
  • Catastrophes are common. The threats we face are countless.  In the past we dealt with floods, famines, disease, predators and tribal warfare. Today we still have floods and disease and consequent sudden isolation, plus economic downturns etc. We should steel ourselves to expect it.
  • You’re stronger than you think. We are very robust; we need surprisingly little in our lives to get by. We are able to sustain an awful lot of ‘hits’ and still keep going. Focus on this truth; remind yourself of your ability to persevere.
  • Suffering is a great teacher. Most of what we’ve ever learned has come to us in periods of suffering.  It helps put the past, and future, problems in perspective. And shows us, through their absence, the good things in our life that truly matter. 
  • You’ve done this before. The fact that you’re reading this sentence is testament to your fortitude. Your past is a record of trials overcome.
  • You’ve endured setbacks, conquered obstacles and passed every test life has thrown your way. Take courage from your own great examples. 


Mindfulness matters

Contributor to the Selwyn 2019 undertaking Maya Nova is a mindfulness coach, mentor and speaker.  She approaches the topic of resilience by being clear about the connections with mindfulness.  As she said we live in times of unprecedented change which can cause a great deal of uncertainty, anxiety and stress. 

In contrast, and with the right focus and motivation, the same conditions can provide the catalyst for a great transformation. It helps to develop and deliver clarity. 

It also fosters resilience and enables people to shift from merely surviving to be able to thrive, even under challenging circumstances. 

Mindfulness can help us understand better the relationship between our thoughts and how they make us feel about ourselves, about others and about life in general.

Mindfulness can help with management of anxiety and depression, lack of confidence and excessive worry and stress.


For more information

Visit Maya Nova at www.mindbalance.co.nz/

Hear Dr Lucy Hone talk about her personal experience and academic knowledge about grief and resilience   https://nziwr.co.nz/coping-with-devastating-grief/

And at About Us | Dr Lucy Hone | Coping With Loss

Visit the School of Life.  The School of Life | Therapy Services

Visit Richard von Sturmer.  Richard Von Sturmer - Writer's Files • Read NZ Te Pou Muramura (read-nz.org)

Visit The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand for the steps to follow that help people stay mentally well.  Five Ways to Wellbeing | Mental Health Foundation


Feedback welcomed

We'd like to hear your thoughts on this Article

Click here to submit your feedback.

Published: May 2020

Reviewed: October 2022

To be reviewed: October 2025