Some people are much more resilient than others. They bounce back quickly from a hard day. They mourn but adjust to even a calamitous setback, such as the death of a loved one or a natural disaster. The questions of why this is so and whether people can learn how to better deal with life's slings and arrows are easy to pose but hard to answer.
George Bonanno, a psychologist at Columbia University, has spent his career studying how people respond to adversity, particularly how they grieve over the death of a spouse or other loved one. "There's a lot to be learned from how well we cope with adversities," he says. "Human beings can cope pretty well with really bad things."
Bonanno says a couple of strong research trends are emerging that speak to why some people fare better than others. One of them is that it's not only OK to be happy when you're sad; it's therapeutic. Positive emotion, even the momentary experience of feeling joy or happiness, can be part of the coping and recovery process for people reeling from a traumatic event.
"People are able to experience joy and happiness even when the crappiest things are happening," he says. "It's a good thing to know that that's possible, or even permissible" when you're grieving or in emotional pain. "Laugh as much as you can."