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Thrive tip: Find Happiness with Behaviors to Help You Overcome Adversity

Maya Angelou said, “you can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights.” It’s the idea that you can learn the most about someone when they have failed at a task and how they choose to respond. 

Tim Bono, PhD, a lecturer in psychological and brain sciences at WashU, uses this quote often in his presentations. Bono, a renowned researcher who focuses on positive psychology, encourages people to understand your emotions and attitude to help overcome any difficult situations you encounter. It’s the way someone responds to that situation that will reveal character and it’s important to find something that brings you happiness and joy to help you overcome the adversity. 

WashU wellness consultant, Meg Krejci, encourages you to recognize your emotion, let it settle and then take action toward happiness. Ask yourself “how am I right now and what do I need?” Krejci notes it’s often self-care that people might be lacking: rest, nourishing food or water, movement through exercise, breathing or enjoying personal hobbies. After you take care of yourself, look to help others, too. 

Below are four behaviors we can all incorporate into our lives to help us be happy, especially during times of difficulty.


Be thankful in the moment. Think of three good things that happened over the past week and reflect upon those memories. Research shows a routine gratitude practice helps to increase happiness and overall well-being, especially during adversity. Find more ways to engage in mindfulness activities with WashU’s 8ight Ways to Wellness.


We know that physical health – exercise – helps improve our mental health. Bono reminds us that the brain releases neurotransmitters during physical activity, which increase our happiness and well-being. There are even additional well-being benefits to engaging in physical activity outside. Aim for 30 minutes a day of moderate aerobic activity, like brisk walking, for at least five days a week. You can even break them up into 10-minute sections to help you achieve this goal. 


Get a good night’s sleep, every night. That means that adults should get at least seven hours of sleep each day. Why is sleep so important? Neuroscience research continues to show our brains are very active while we sleep, making neuro-connections and creating memories of what we’ve learned throughout the day. It also gives your body the chance to recover each day.

Just like your smartphone, Bono reminds us that sometimes the best thing to do is to unplug, hit the reset button and wake up refreshed. 

Make progress toward goal and purposeful activities 

Engage in activities that you can do successfully and feel accomplished once completed. Bono recommends reading a few pages of a book each evening before bed, cooking a meal with a loved one, going for a run or even just making your bed in the morning before work. 

It’s important you pick activities that provide you autonomy (you enjoy it yourself), relatedness (give you the change to enjoy an activity you like with someone else), and something that you’re skilled at (because it feels good to work hard at something and experience the gratification of being successful). Instead of scrolling through social media, consider calling or texting a friend just to say hello and that you’re thinking of them.

Bottom line: you may not be able to control every situation and its outcome, but you can control your emotions and how you deal with them. 

Learn more about the 8ight Ways to Wellness and visit the WashU Well-being Hub for helpful resources and programming, including the Move into Mindfulness courses, which are available to all WashU employees and taught by Krejci.