Elizabeth Smart: Resilience Personified
Here at ThirdAge we were touched by the heartening news that Elizabeth Smart, now a lovely and self-assured 24-year-old, was married on February 18th 2012 to fellow Mormon Matthew Glimour, a 22-year-old Scotsman. That she has emerged apparently unscathed after being kidnapped, raped, and held captive for nine months when she was only 14 seems to us a beacon of hope about the potential for resilience in the human spirit.
The news is especially welcome on the heels of the Whitney Houston tragedy that has riveted the nation in recent days. What, we wondered, makes the difference between people who survive setbacks and those who don't? After all, both Elizabeth and Whitney had strong faith, both had supportive family ties, and they each had to deal with the pressures of notoriety. Yet the trajectories of their lives took starkly distinct turns. What other factors could have been at work in sending them on such divergent paths?
The answer may be rooted in what renowned neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson, PhD calls "Emotional Styles." In his new book with Sharon Begley, "The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live--and How You Can Change Them," Richardson describes basic styles including resilience, self-awareness, and attention. He details the brain chemistry that underlies each style and offers strategies we can use to modify our own brains and emotions. In a Newsweek article, Richardson wrote, "Locating the bases of emotion at least partly in the brain’s seat of reason has several practical implications. None is more intriguing than this: it is possible to transform your Emotional Style through systematic mental practice."