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Existential resilience

A thematic collaboration initiative at Lund University

Woman by the sea. Photo: Cosiela Borta/Unsplash.

How can contemplation, aesthetics and compassion counter stress and feelings of meaninglessness? By exploring existential resilience, researchers and practitioners jointly engage in reducing stress and promoting a more meaningful, sustainable life.

In today’s society, people whose work involves helping and supporting others are severely affected by increasing existential threats and associated stress. This is often related with feelings of meaninglessness and disconnection from self, the wider community and the world as a whole. Apart from human suffering, stress-related mental illness is also costly for society, for example in terms of sick leave.

Contributing to a more sustainable working life

The thematic collaboration initiative ‘Existential Resilience: Contemplation, Aesthetics, Compassion’ (ERiCi) brings together researchers from several faculties at Lund University and other stakeholders. Their aim is to find answers to how to prevent and address the increase in existential and work-related stress among people in healthcare, other service professions, and society at large.

Existential resilience is about uniting outer and inner sustainability – for instance by cultivating intrinsic human capacities to cope with and overcome existential crises.

At the core of these capacities is the ability to experience and understand oneself as part of the larger community – both human and ecological – and ultimately the interdependency and entanglement of personal, collective and planetary wellbeing. Existential resilience thus brings together personal and societal development. It is about fostering capacities to find meaning and beauty in life, even when it is difficult, and to recognise one's role and agency in promoting sustainability in both one’s personal and professional life.

ERiCi explores, among other things:

  • how contemplation, aesthetics and compassion can help prevent and cope with destructive stress in different settings
  • how a lack of meaning and community at the individual level is linked to collective worldviews and today’s societal crises
  • how current systems and structures cause existential and work-related stress
  • how existential resilience can be taught and integrated into education and work contexts.

The ultimate goal is to contribute to a more sustainable society and work life, with a focus on human-centred professions and sectors, such as healthcare, social care, and education (including schools, universities and life-long learning).

Three important concepts

  • Contemplation – the ability to challenge our meaning-making processes and look beyond narrow instrumental perspectives.
  • Aesthetics – the ability to find beauty and meaning in what exists.
  • Compassion – the ability to care for ourselves, other people and the world, and with an intention to alleviate suffering.

Contact information

Max Liljefors
Professor of Art history and Visual studies
Phone: +46(0)46 222 8394
Mobile: +46(0)70 173 0798
max [dot] liljefors [at] kultur [dot] lu [dot] se (max[dot]liljefors[at]kultur[dot]lu[dot]se)

Martin Garwicz
Professor of Neurophysiology
Phone: +46(0)46 222 7755
martin [dot] garwicz [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (martin[dot]garwicz[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Christine Wamsler
Professor of Sustainability Science
Phone: +46(0)46 222 8080
christine [dot] wamsler [at] lucsus [dot] lu [dot] se (christine[dot]wamsler[at]lucsus[dot]lu[dot]se)


Existential Resilience –

Research database

More information about the project.

Lund University Research Portal