COMMENTARY: Forrest Gump and the four pillars of resiliency

  • Published
  • By Col. Peter Sartori
  • Air Force District of Washington Logistics, Installations and Mission Support
The first time I read about resiliency and its four pillars - physical, social, spiritual and mental wellness - the movie Forrest Gump came to mind.

Forrest Gump is a simple man who while sitting on a park bench tells strangers about his mother's catch phrases and his exploits throughout his years. Forrest's life is full of trials and tribulations and he overcomes these quandaries through physical, social, spiritual and mental wellness.

The basis of the physical pillar is overcoming stress through physical activities, eating well and getting good rest. To forget his problems, one day Forrest starts running without any direction and gets so caught up in the run that he ends up going back and forth across the country.

For Airmen, we train to focus on our fit test, but we should be training for fitness. If we exercise, eat well and rest, we'll be better able to deal with the stressors in our lives. And we don't have to run across the country to get fit. We can exercise on our own or we can participate in physical activities in squadrons. Group fitness not only helps our physical well-being, it helps build and maintain social support.

The foundation for the social pillar is building social support from our families and friends. Humans are a "social animal," and our relationships help our resilience.

Forrest socializes with family, friends and strangers at a bus stop. But the most "social" moment in the movie comes from another character. Lt. Dan tells Forrest, "I never thanked you for saving my life." In this simple statement, Lt. Dan overcomes years of anger stemming from the loss of his legs. Working and socializing with Forrest on the shrimp boat, Lt. Dan bounces back from his funk. We can learn from Lt. Dan's example and strengthen our support system when we thank those who are there for us.

Spiritual enlightenment can be a difficult pillar to understand because not everyone is religious. One of my favorite Forrest Gump quotes is about religion. Lt Dan asks, "Have you found Jesus yet, Gump?" and Forrest answers, "I didn't know I was supposed to be looking for him, Sir." Forrest's answer suggests he's not looking for spiritual enlightenment.

For many of us, religion may not play a major factor in our lives. However, religion can provide a path to define our faith and values and give a positive purpose in life. The strength of this pillar is keeping the faith you choose and maintaining a purpose. If you have a purpose in life, it's easier to have a positive outlook.

Mental wellness comes from taking breaks from stressors and maintaining positive self-esteem. Forrest's friend Jenny asks him if he dreams about who he's going to be and Forrest answers, "Aren't I gonna be me?" We should be more like Forrest and not worry about being someone else. Forrest shows concern that he's not as smart as others; but rather than let it limit him, he remains positive by doing the things he enjoys, like running and mowing the lawn.

We can all learn more about being resilient through Forrest Gump. He unknowingly uses the four pillars of wellness to achieve happiness in his life. Try to be positive. If life gets you down, run, talk to a friend or mow the lawn. Go shrimping and get out with your Lt. Dan. If you need spiritual help, find a chaplain. Remember, as his momma always says, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."