Hardiness Definition

HardinessHardiness is a personality trait that is associated with a person’s ability to manage and respond to stressful life events with coping strategies that turn potentially unfortunate circumstances into learning opportunities. It is characterized by a tendency to be deeply involved, a need to be in control, and a desire to learn from life’s events regardless of the outcomes.

History of Hardiness and Hardy Attitudes

With more than 20 years of theory, research, and practice, hardiness is a well-established concept in psychology. The psychological concept of hardiness was first identified by examining stress reactions among managers at the Illinois Bell Company over a 12-year period. Six years into the study, a major corporate upheaval in its parent company occurred, resulting in a decrease in half of the work force during a 1-year period. Over the next several years, two thirds of the managers showed signs of reactions to stress (e.g., heart attacks, depression, suicide, divorce) while one third of the managers thrived under these stressful conditions. What was the difference between those who succumbed to stress and those who thrived? Managers who exhibited all three attitudes of commitment, control, and challenge were protected against stress-related illness. The unique combination of these three attitudes became known as the 3Cs of hardiness.

Possessing all three hardy attitudes provides people with the ability to turn unfortunate circumstances into opportunities for personal growth. The 3Cs are described as (1) the tendency to become deeply involved in all aspects of life—people, places, and events (commitment); (2) belief in one’s ability to influence life outcomes (control); and (3) a desire to continually learn from both positive and negative experiences and embrace change (challenge). Hardiness theory emphasizes that a person must possess all three of these attitudes to have existential courage (i.e., courage based upon experience).

The Hardiness Model

Soon after the corporate upheaval, the research findings were used to develop a training program to assist managers at the Illinois Bell Company. From this training program and prior research, a hardiness model emerged. This model shows that as stressful circumstances increase, a strain reaction will likely occur. If this strain reaction continues to build up, it is expected that performance deficits (e.g., physical illness or mental breakdown) will follow. However, if hardy attitudes are strong, the consequence is hardy coping.

Thus, hardy people use active rather than passive coping strategies and are less likely to avoid coping with stressful events. Hardy attitudes also motivate hardy coping, hardy social support (i.e., providing and receiving social support), and hardy health practices (e.g., practice of relaxation techniques and exercise). If a person actively reflects upon each situation, hardy attitudes can deepen, leading to similar hardy reactions in new situations.


  1. Maddi, S. R. (2004). Hardiness: An operationalization of existential courage. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 44, 279-298.
  2. Maddi, S. R., & Khoshaba, D. M. (2005). Resilience at work: How to succeed no matter what life throws at you. New York: American Management Association.