Live Life Fully: Are you living in black and white or Technicolor?
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Perspective is a funny thing.
Why do we need to experience a negative situation to appreciate the good things?
You know, like when you get over the flu and you're so grateful to just feel normal again? Then that sense of awe and wonder soon fades, and you find yourself consumed again with the small stuff.
I've spent a fair amount of time in hospital rooms over the past couple of weeks, including a brief stint at the Hospice House West. While "life or death" is a phrase that tends to be bandied about, it's never so present as in these situations.
Comfort and kindness rise to the top, though, and help to fill the void. As well as our consciousness, at least for a while.
I've been on a quest to study the sustainability -- or the lack of it -- of such feelings. Over the years I've interviewed authors and speakers with a recurring question: "Why does it take a life-threatening illness or accident for us to appreciate life as we go along?" Does it have to be experiential? Do we have to hit bottom? Can't we just "get it"?
There don't seem to be any universal answers. The closest I've come is a response from a Pittsburgh psychologist, who attributed this phenomenon to homeostasis, the body's natural tendency to move back toward normalcy.
I understand the nature of contrast. We can't relate to being warm without being cold. How would we know joy if we hadn't felt sadness? And so it goes.
And I'm not so naive as to think we can stay in a place of perpetual euphoria. It's just that I'd like to move the needle a little farther toward the positive side a little more often.
This inquiry is part of my life's purpose. It continues to tug at me.
Speaking of contrasts, the stories of returning soldiers and their difficulties in readjusting to civilian life have had a strong effect on me. Not to mention the startling statistic that more soldiers committed suicide last year -- after they were deployed back home -- than were killed in battle in Afghanistan!
During my clinical internship in graduate school, I participated in some sessions with veterans who were dealing with post traumatic stress disorder. To boil it down, the re-entry issues tended to center on a lost sense of purpose and mission.
That's a major reason so many soldiers decide to re-enlist. They're part of a unit in which everyone has one another's back, and they're committed to fulfilling their missions. As one former soldier said in one of those sessions, "I couldn't wait to get back home. And then I found people getting so stressed out over finding a parking space. And numbing out to 'Wheel of Fortune.'"
No wonder these guys can't relate. Coupled with the horror of war scenes being replayed over and over again in their minds -- and substance issues with alcohol and prescription drugs to deal with their pain -- it's a tragic combination.
Which brings me back to perspective. Our lives are all relative, and everyone experiences his or her own set of challenges. It's not up to any of us to judge another person's situation.
As for me, I'm just looking to keep things in perspective. I get caught up in everyday stressors too. And I need to remind myself of the power of gratitude.
As Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anna Quindlen said, while referring to her transformation following her mother's death, "The lights came on for the darkest possible reason. 'Before' and 'after' was not just before my mother's illness and after her death. It was the dividing line between seeing the world in black and white, and in Technicolor. I knew I had undergone a sea change. Because I was never again going to be able to see life as anything except a great gift."
Linda Arnold, M.A., MBA, is a certified wellness instructor, counselor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications firm with offices in West Virginia, Montana and Washington, D.C. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.