Reflections on my dog walk — Resilience

Are dogs more resilient than humans?

The early morning walk with my dog, Zoom, is the best time of my day. We have built a cadence over the years. His exploration of all the pee-mails is timed with my speed(which could be faster!). As I ambled along, random thoughts sprang into my head, like,- "Are dogs more resilient than humans?" It sent me down the rabbit hole of exploring this topic, and who did I turn to for some answers? - None other than Chat GPT. The short version of the answer was,  "Dogs have evolved to adopt coping mechanisms to deal with the stress caused by changes in their environment; a new home, a new companion, etc... They have an extraordinary capability of building bonds and attachments. This helps them cope with the changes. However, humans have more complex emotions and abilities, which makes them more vulnerable to emotional and psychological stressors."  As a keen observer of dog behaviour, I agree with this response.

Is resilience a muscle or a skill, or a personality trait? 

Are some people born with more resilience than others? 

Are older people(50+ age group!) more resilient than others? 

This write-up and the next few will dive deeper into these questions. I will use information from research literature specific to Asia since the cultural context differs from the US and other Western nations and the "Leading Self for a 100-Year Life" workshops.

What is resilience, and what are the drivers?

Resilience is the ability to adapt and bounce back or recover from adverse circumstances. When we do a word-cloud exercise about resilience, some words that come up are "Never give up, Faith, Meaning, Optimist, Support network, Positive mindset." These words encapsulate the key drivers of resilience:

  1. Optimism or a positive attitude. The COVID-19 pandemic provided the perfect lab to test the relationship between optimism and resilience. Results clearly show a positive correlation. People with a positive outlook on life tend to weather crises better. Pessimists tend to look for the bad and go into a downward spiral.
  2. Meaning - Having a sense of purpose or a goal helps one be more resilient.
  3. Wellness - Being physically and mentally healthy is a crucial aspect of resilience. 
  4. Relationships - Support from friends, family, and the community is another pillar that helps get you through tough times. 

Building Resilience is one session in the "Leading Self for a 100-year life" workshop that we conduct in Singapore. We always have a guest speaker to kick off the session. One speaker had stared down a life-threatening illness and a stroke to achieve an almost complete recovery. He credited close relationships with family and friends for his recovery. He is athletic and had promised himself that he would be on a tennis court again. This promise or goal helped him keep going, and he is now playing 5 days a week. 

Another friend has endured physical, psychological, and financial swings that would put an ordinary person down for the count. He has close relationships and a goal but needs to work on his mental and physical wellness to manage the adversities in his future. 

Resilience is dynamic and changes over time. It is also based on genetics, environment, and experiences, amongst other things in life. Developing coping mechanisms when faced with adversity builds resilience. But what if you are fortunate and haven't faced adverse circumstances in life? Literature suggests that it is not necessary to face adversity to build resilience, and it can be built proactively. The other thought that came naturally (since I am fast approaching 60) is if resilience increases with age or declines in sync with brain memory and processing power, muscle strength, testosterone levels, and so on...The following article will include some ideas on all these thoughts and questions. 

Till then, feast on this cartoon. For the fans of Asterix and Obelix, Cacofonix, the bard is the epitome of resilience.


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