The #1 Reward of Resilience (and It’s Not Just About Stress)

First glance, this cute-dog YouTube video is good for a laugh and an “awwww.” A man gently lifts his bulldog, Mudd, onto a large trampoline. Mudd isn’t freaked out at all; instead, he jumps with obvious delight as much and fast as he can. He looks like he’s trying to do a front flip! In fact, he reminds us of a happy, wild teenage boy leaping as high as he can.

When we watched a second time, we saw something else. Mudd has to learn to stay upright on the trampoline, and he has to learn how to bounce back when he does tumble around. The work is so hard, sometimes he even takes a break to lie on his side and breathe heavily! But that does not in any way diminish the dog’s obvious joy. He’s working hard to build his stamina and resilience, and he’s having fun.

With all the serious talk about stress, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that doing the thing that helps you resist its negative force is actually rewarding in and of itself. We’re built that way. The problem is that we get so hamstrung by the negative effects of stress that we forget how good it feels to build resilience. And not only does it feel good—it actually improves your capacity for joy.

Don’t treat it like a chore, and it won’t feel like one

Do you approach stress management (or any self-care activity) with a sense of duty (“I know this is good for me. Ugh”)? That approach doesn’t make your least favorite vegetables taste any better, so of course it’s not going to help elsewhere.

Can you imagine if Mudd secretly hated being on that trampoline? Being a dog, he wouldn’t stick with it for a second. He’d do everything in his power to get back to the ground, and he’d miss out on a rollicking good time.

The work of resilience building is naturally a little bit of both—some work to get up and start bouncing around, and then the pure joy of feeling yourself rise up into the air.

(Read: 4 red flags that you’re headed for burnout)

You don’t have to make resilience fun (which in itself sounds chore-like); you just have to give yourself a chance to engage in the things that help you build it—while taking care to side step distraction and guilt.

3 ways to build resilience (and have fun)

  • Take a thrilling risk (even a small one) – Reaching out of your comfort zone in a way that excites you is a great way to build resilience. Maybe for you that’s jumping out of an airplane, but it could be as simple as striking up a conversation with someone new at a party. Either way, the payoff is a greater sense of your strength and confidence.
  • Look up an old friend. That feeling when you reconnect with someone you haven’t seen in many years (and who you like)? That’s resilience being built. You are designed for relationships of all kinds; we all are. They’re a huge part of what keeps us afloat in tough times and able to celebrate the up times. Reaching out to a treasured old friend is like a boost of adrenaline to your resilience.
  • Dive into something you love. Enjoying what you do builds resilience as much as bushwhacking through a thicket of negative thoughts. But you’ve got to really let yourself sink into whatever activity lights you up. Join a running club; watch your favorite Netflix series; spend some time reading your favorite magazine. That delight will give you energy to bear up under the pressure of stress, and be a lot of fun in the process.

Read 3 Ways You Zap Happiness (and How to Get It Back)