LCSW, Davis Behavioral Health children & youth program director
Are you a collector of green stamps or brown stamps?
When I was a little girl, the grocery stores would give green stamps with every purchase. I loved to lick the stamps and put them in the little book. Filled books were saved and eventually when you had enough, you would take them to the green stamp redemption center and trade them in for a blender, an electric blanket or some other appliance. It was quite a bonus.
Some people collect green stamps in their lives. They seem to get a bonus out of life and keep track of all of the good things that have happened. They go to their inner redemption center and turn their experiences in for feelings of happiness. They laugh; they seem to find something positive in what they do on a daily basis.
There is another group of people that seems to enjoy misery. They look for chaos and seem to find reasons to avoid being happy. They can give you a running tally of all of the bad things that have ever happened to them. They remember all indignities and unfair events in their lives. It is as if they are collecting brown stamps. When these people have collected enough, they go to their personal redemption center and turn their stamps in for a bad mood, a fight with their friend, meanness, a divorce, a suicide, or for justification for being terminally unhappy.
An example is a 90-year-old woman who was in the hospital with a broken hip. Compared to many, she had experienced a pretty easy life. The story goes that after surgery, she said this to the nurse:
“When I was 9 years old, I was climbing a tree and fell out and broke my arm. First the arm, and now the hip.”
When problems occur, or bad things happen, most question “why me?” It seems that few people ever question why good things happen to them. There is not a lot of time spent wondering why they are the recipients of random good fortune. You rarely hear “why did I deserve this” when something wonderful happens.
There is a term called subjective well-being (SWB), a nickname for “happiness.” In a 1978 study of SWB among lottery winners and paraplegics, both groups adjusted to their respective circumstances with rather surprising results. The lottery winners soon settled back to levels of happiness that did not differ significantly from a control group. The paraplegics, while less happy, were not as unhappy as was expected under the circumstances. One study revealed that major events, happy or not, lose their impact on contentment levels in less than three months.
This begs the question: Is this SWB something that we are born with or that we develop?
Happiness is influenced both genetically and environmentally, but not fixed. The brain’s structure can be modified through practice. If you really want to be happier than your grandparents provided for in your genes, or your parents modeled for you in your childhood, you have to make the effort to practice getting into a happiness habit.
“Happy people roll with the punches,” an unknown author said. “They know from experience that everything changes. Today’s good fortune may vanish tomorrow; today’s crisis may turn out to be tomorrow’s good fortune.”
Everyone has problems, disappointments and frustrations С true, some more than others. But a person that knows how to meet and adjust will have a better chance of riding out the storm. Life can deal us blows, and no one feels constant exhilaration. What’s attainable is comfort with yourself, satisfaction and a quiet knowing that you can adjust. What are you going to collect?
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