The art of resilience

Matthew Johnstone tackles life’s tough questions with his endearing warmth and wit.

In his seventh published book, The Big Little Book of Resilience, author and illustrator Matthew Johnstone takes readers on an enlightening journey focused on developing and maintaining resilience. Akin to a big, warm hug, his book is brimming with wisdom and wit and laid out in a simple, wonderfully illustrated format imparting life lessons on every page. Here Matthew describes what he hopes to share with readers and some key messages he has learnt on his own wellbeing journey.

How did The Big Little Book of Resilience come about?

I spent a good chunk of my late 20s and 30s dipping in and out of depression while holding up a full on job as a creative in advertising – not a great combo. What held me back from recovery was probably being a male, my job and having an ego that told me I could beat this, outrun it and outsmart it.

When I did decide to take the condition seriously, that’s where I began to truly understand the concept of resilience and wellbeing. That good can come from bad – but only if we’re prepared to learn and grow from it. That yes, depression may be part of my life, but I can live it with a profound sense of wellbeing. As bad as the experience was, it was still my greatest teacher and it has informed how I now live my life.

While we can’t control what happens to us, we can control how we respond. Why is our response so fundamental to resilience? 

We’re all created differently by way of our backgrounds, our upbringing, our personality, our culture, life experiences and how we’re wired both mentally and physically. So it’s not really surprising that we will respond differently to the inevitable events that life will chuck at us. If something adverse occurs do you stay down or do you get up? Do we become a victim or survivor? Does the event define or blight the rest of our lives or do we grow and thrive from the experience?

It’s simply the difference between owning your problems and doing something about it as opposed to your problems owning you. 


It’s about acknowledging and accepting what hasn’t worked in your life, while putting energy into and focusing on, what is.”


What do you hope to impart to readers of your book? 

Whether it’s love or heartbreak, employment or redundancy, health or sickness, life or death – stuff happens and there’s really not a lot we can do about it. It’s not to say we should live with an endless sense of foreboding but look at it as an opportunity to live each day fully because we simply do not know what is around the corner. This book is about accepting what you can and cannot change. It’s about acknowledging and accepting what hasn’t worked in your life, while putting energy into and focusing on, what is. It’s about growing and learning from adversity.

Your illustrations beautifully bring your words to life. How do you conceptualise each page? 

I always say I write and illustrate a book twice – once in rough with sketches and twice with finished words and illustrations. I’ve never really understood how I conceptualise but it’s a bit like an artesian well, ideas just seem to bubble up. If I have to really ‘frown my brow’ to think of something it’s generally not very good. It’s when it pops into my mind and makes me smile that I know I’m on the right track.

Three key messages you would share with someone beginning to tackle adversity in their own life? 

1. Learn and grow from life experiences, both good and bad.

2. Develop good life management and wellbeing.

3. If you’ve gone through something and come out the other side wiser and stronger for it, recycle that experience by helping others.

We often tell ourselves we have to feel happy, and if we don’t, something is wrong. Share how you feel on it being okay not to always feel okay. 

We need to be able develop emotional honesty and mastery. I also believe prevention is the greatest cure, if we can learn how to incorporate wellbeing into our lives such as exercise, eating well, communicating well, quietening the mind and getting good sleep we are half way there.

Happiness is the only human emotion we actively seek and it’s a fleeting emotion at best. Wellbeing on the other hand is something we can maintain and manage throughout our life.

The Little Big Book of Resilience by Matthew Johnstone is out now from Pan Macmillan Australia. Find out more at

(Images: Matthew Johnstone)

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