Neely Young: Resilience

We have had tough times in Georgia, yet have you ever noticed how some of our citizens handle adversity better than others?

Science has identified what is called a resil-ience gene in people who have the ability to survive and bounce back from adversity. Mutations in the gene, called 5-HTT, help regulate serotonin in the central nervous system. Serotonin is the brain’s feel-good, self-esteem regulator.

Those with the short form of 5-HTT have low levels of serotonin. They have the glass-is-half-empty kind of personality. They always see the bad side of life. They are negative and hard to get along with, have fewer friends and, sadly, have shorter life spans. Those with the long version of 5-HTT seem to recover from adversity much faster. They are positive and have a sunny outlook on life.

Over years of covering political leaders in Georgia, I have observed how some have reacted to negative news and stories. They must have the right kind of 5-HTT gene because they have the ability to laugh things off, to survive and live to fight on another day. Several stand out, like the late Senator Herman Talmadge. “Just spell my name right, boys,” he said in reaction to a negative article by “those lyin’ Atlanta newspapers.”

One of my favorite people is Elizabeth Harris, wife of former Gov. Joe Frank Harris. Her smile and friendly demeanor brought many votes to her husband during their campaigns. Julianne Chambliss is cut from the same cloth. Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss counts his wife as his “major political asset.”

Former congressman George “Buddy” Dar-den has had his ups and downs. Yet his easy manner and positive outlook have made him a player in Georgia politics even though he is in the “blue” party, unlike most of our state leaders.

There is hope for those who don’t have the right genetic makeup. Dr. Dennis Charney, dean of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, has developed a 10-step “Resilience Prescription.” He believes you can change the way you look at life so you can live longer and be happier.

First, says Dr. Charney, practice optimism. Even if you are not a born optimist, you can learn. Hospital studies show that people who are optimistic have fewer problems requiring hospitalization after major surgery.

The second step is to identify a resilient role model to imitate. Find someone who inspires you. Imitation is an excellent way to learn to be more resilient.

Third, develop a moral compass and unshakable beliefs. A recent study in my local newspaper, The Marietta Daily Journal, reported that people who attend church regularly live longer and are happier than people who don’t.

Fourth, practice altruism. Thomas Carlyle, the great 20th century historian, believed that altruism was the bread of life. He summed up his belief this way: “Not for ourselves, but for others,” which is on the seal of the great state of Georgia. It means, simply, that you should go out and do something nice for someone other than yourself.

Fifth, learn to adapt your thinking to adjust positively to new situations. As my friend Jay Whorton would say, “Roll with the punches.” Sixth, face your fears and learn to control negative emotions. Seventh, build active coping skills to handle your problems.

Eighth, establish a supportive social network to help you. Find yourself some good friends! Ninth, stay physically fit. Even a moderate weekly workout program can help prolong life.

Tenth, laugh as much as you can. Carney says this is the most important. Even if you don’t have the right configuration of the 5-HTT gene, he believes you can improve your outlook and overcome adversity if you try only a few of the 10 steps.

Let’s get started on Number 10: The economy is so bad I got a pre-declined credit card in the mail. Or, if the bank returns your check marked “Insufficient Funds,” call and ask if they mean you or them. Or, McDonald’s is selling the 1/8th pounder. Motel 6 won’t keep the light on anymore. A truckload of Americans was caught sneaking into Mexico … .”

Laughter really is the best medicine. Good luck with the 10 steps!

Editor’s note: Many of the ideas in this column come from The Survivors Club: The Secrets of Science That Could Save Your Life by Ben Sherwood.

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