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The Relationship Between Grit and Depression Severity

A fundamental axiom of the Buddhist tradition is that life is dukkha, a Pali word that loosely translates to "suffering". An uncareful reading of this statement may lead one to fatalistic despair. On the contrary, the Buddhists believe that this is a prerequisite for enlightenment. When embodied in action, an individual forthrightly accepts the conditions of existence, suffering and all, and finds meaning in the process. Interestingly, there has been increasing amounts of empirical evidence validating this theory.


In a study of Filipino high schoolers, researchers examined the relationship between grit and symptoms of depression.¹ Grit is a psychological construct characterized by two dimensions, passion and perseverance.² These dimensions can be conceptualized as the drive to achieve long term goals in the face of adversity and the maintenance of interests over time respectively. Researchers administered the Short Grit Scale, a scientifically grounded questionnaire.³ Questions were answered on a scale from "1=not at all true" to "5=completely true." One of the questions, for instance, asks " I stay committed to my goals." The mood and feelings questionnaire, another scientifically grounded questionnaire, was used to measure depression.⁴ Questions were answered on a scale from "0=not true" to "2=true". One of the questions, for instance, asks, "I felt miserable or unhappy." When questionnaire results were aggregated and compared, researchers found that "gritty" Filipino high school students were less likely to suffer from depression.¹ Based on these findings, it was hypothesized by researchers that the persevering attitude characterizing gritty individuals buttresses them against the potential negative emotions that may arise when confronted by failure.¹


As with any scientific study, this one is not without its limitations. Most importantly, these results only imply a correlational as opposed to a causal relationship between grit and depression. It may not be the case that grittiness alleviates depression but instead, that individuals with fewer symptoms of depression are more gritty. Nonetheless, there are practical implications for these findings. These findings suggest that the most productive way of contending with the fact that life is dukkha is by taking it in stride and persevering in spite of it. Stated differently, it is the realization that life is tough but that you're a lot tougher.


References

  1. Datu, J. A. D., King, R. B., Valdez, J. P. M., & Eala, M. S. M. (2019). Grit is associated with lower depression via meaning in life among Filipino high school students. Youth & Society, 51(6), 865–876. https://doi.org/10.1177/0044118X18760402

  2. Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 1087-1101. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.92.6.1087

  3. Duckworth, A. L., & Quinn, P. D. (2009). Development and validation of the Short Grit Scale (Grit-S). Journal of Personality Assessment, 91, 166-174.

  4. Angold, A., Costello, E. J., Messer, S. C., Pickles, A., Winder, F., & Silver, D. (1995). The development of a short questionnaire for use in epidemiological studies of depression in children and adolescents. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 5, 237-249.

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