Faculty Spotlight: Maria Sirois
by Suzee Connole
Bad things can and will happen to everyone. We never know when they will occur or how we will be asked to respond. One powerful way to prepare is to bolster our resilience.
Maria Sirois, PsyD, a positive psychologist and international consultant, has dedicated her work to the art and understanding of resilience, which, at its foundation, is about strengthening our ability to adapt to the capriciousness of life. Resilience expands our capacity to navigate difficult moments and to leverage our strengths to help us thrive during times of greater ease. Says Maria, “It’s really about bringing heaven into hell.”
As a graduate student working with children facing cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, Maria witnessed families who were facing the potential loss of a child, and yet continued to thrive. They were living in a terrible and sorrowful situation, yet they were able to grow in terms of love, generosity, and mindfulness. On the other hand, she also observed families facing more curable diagnoses who fell apart. This experience prompted her to question what enables us to do well, driving her to investigate what sustains the human spirit in times of great struggle.
“We all need to know what tools we can bring to bear in times of need,” says Maria. Rituals and practices such as daily exercises, generosity moments, and random acts of kindness are easily accessible tools, allowing us to engage with life and with others more productively and positively. This is crucial when we are suffering. Often, when we are in states of grief, sorry, worry, or fear, our minds are not helpful. It can be hard to quiet the mind after receiving shocking news. Practices that calm the body, engage the heart, and elevate optimism can help settle a distraught mind.
In Maria’s personal experience, exercise is key to thriving. “Being active is a positive leverage point for me. It changes my brain and how I see the day, and provides me with positive energy.” Maria works out a couple of times a week on average; when she’s dealing with negative or unplanned situations, she exercises daily. “I cannot always control a situation, but I can control how I respond to it,” she says. “Individuals who have a clear determination to do the things that bring them joy or happiness, even in suffering, do better. This is a hallmark characteristic of resilience: mindfully choosing how one spends the day even while under stress.”
Heaven and hell can coexist. To practice resilience, Maria says, we first have to face reality as it is. We have to experience the heartbreak when it comes, and then begin to build in an “and”: I am in shock, and I can reach out to others. I am frightened of the future and I have strengths. My heart is broken and I notice the kindness of others.
Honoring first what we are experiencing and then creating a slightly more positive perspective increases our energy and sense of hope, and helps us live into the paradox of deep resilience: We can be in hell and still experience good within ourselves and in our lives.
Maria teaches the online WBI course The Resilient Quest (When Life Strikes Hard). The course is designed as an exploration of both our struggles and our capacities—whether you’re coming from a place of pain or of peace. “Be prepared to uncover hidden treasures about yourself and your journey,” says Maria.
Suzee Connole is the Marketing Assistant for Wholebeing Institute. Part of her role at WBI involves highlighting how alumni, faculty, and guest speakers are taking positive psychology principles and applying them in the communities where they live and work.
Dr. Maria Sirois, PsyD, is an inspirational speaker, seminar leader, and author who has worked at the intersections of wellness, psychology, and spirituality for nearly 20 years. As a wellness guide, Maria has been invited to keynote throughout the country at conferences for wellness centers, hospitals, hospices, and philanthropy, business, academic, and corporate institutions, as well as for the general public. She has been called a “true teacher” and “an orator of great power and beauty.” She is the author of “A Short Course in Happiness After Loss (And Other Dark, Difficult Times)” and “Every Day Counts: Lessons in Love, Faith, and Resilience from Children Facing Illness”.