Rose Tint

Posted on August 8, 2017

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Rose tints my world and keeps me safe from the trouble and pain.[1]  Columbia

Something’s lost and something’s gained in living every day.  Joni Mitchell

I played in a number of bands.  In the longest running of those bands, I was the third best lead vocalist.  I sang about 60% of the lead vocals.  The simple reason for this is that I was the guy who knew all of the words.

I used to think that everyone knew (or should know) all of the lyrics.  I think this was mostly because my close friends were really into music and did know the words.  It seemed reasonable to me that every baby boomer would know all of the words to American Pie and to every song the Beatles ever released (and the first 7 Elvis Costello albums).  When I would come upon someone who couldn’t sing along with, say, Eight Days a Week, I would be astonished.  My wife always maintained that not knowing the lyrics was the majority position and that I was in the minority.  Perhaps she is right and I was working off of a small sample of like-minded people.

I have also generally been of the belief that memory tends to rose-tint everything.  As I look back across different periods of my life, I tend to note the good things.  I think this is also a contributing factor to families having more than one child.  After having her first baby, a family member swore she was never going to go through that agony again.  Three and half years later she was having another, and she did it on purpose.

My daughter and I had a band called Ride the Walrus in which she was the guitarist and I was the drummer.  Drums are an instrument that I do not play.  Fortunately this band was on the Rock Band video game.  She could play guitar on medium and I could play drums on easy.  Many rock bands have been lost to drugs and plane crashes.  Ride the Walrus was lost to a computer glitch.  When we formed the band, I had spent some time making the drummer kind of look like me, and I didn’t want to make the effort to do it again.

While talking with a close friend recently, I had told him that I had come to the conclusion that I have largely played life on the easy setting.  I have a great wife, my children are adults and functioning on their own, I have a job that I like, and I have a great support system of friends and extended family.  My friend, who has known me for almost 25 years, disagreed with my assertion and pointed out a number of the hardships and losses I had been through during the time we have known each other.  The truth, I suspect, is somewhere in the middle.  I have been ridiculously blessed (for which I am eternally grateful), but my memory does tend to rose tint the past.

This, however, is not everyone’s experience.  Some look back over life and only see the pain and the losses.  The difference isn’t about how much good vs. bad that has happened in your life.  There is no question that hardships are not distributed equally.  However, it is not about the ratio of hardships to blessings or even the magnitude of the losses and the joys.  It has more to do with our narrative about our own lives.

The research on marital relationships would seem to support this.  John and Julie Gottman found that distressed couples tend to rewrite history in negative terms where happy couples tend to rose tint the past.  That is to say, when the relationship is in pain, the tendency is to look back and see that it was always bad.  When the relationship is currently satisfying, the history looks rosier.

As we know, correlation does not prove causation.  Just because A & B correlate, does not mean that A caused B nor that B caused A.  For example, There is a 99% correlation between the divorce rate in Maine and per capita consumption of margarine (http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations).  This begs the question if rose tinting is a result of current life satisfaction or current life satisfaction results from rose tinting or if they both come from other factors.

For addicts in recovery, part of the process is often both dismantling the grievance story and constructing a gratitude list.  The grievance story is the story you tell yourself about how you have been wronged and treated unfairly.  The reality is that no one gets through this life without incidents in which you were treated wrongly or something tragic happened to you.  The problem comes when this becomes your life narrative, it keeps you stuck in thought patterns and behaviors that are detrimental to you and those close to you.

In many faiths, thanksgiving to God is part of the prayer tradition.  Why is this important?  It is not like God needs it.  He isn’t sitting around feeling unappreciated and thinking, “You ungrateful wretches, do you have any idea how much I do for you?”  The point of thanksgiving is primarily for our benefit.  Gratitude enhances our sense of well-being.  It gives us greater peace.   How we talk to ourselves about this relationship makes a difference.

If you were reading my posts last year, you might recall that my sister died of cancer at age 60 about a year and a half ago.  Her death was a tragedy for our family.  Her husband of 40 years and her daughters and granddaughter have had to cope with the greatest impact.  For me, her death is neither the defining event of her life nor of our relationship.  In A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis pondered the question of whether the joy of having someone in your life was worth the pain of losing that person.  Where Lewis arrives on this question is that the answer is “yes.”  The joy is worth enduring the pain of the loss.  Applying this to my situation, I can either rejoice in a 56 year relationship with my sister or rage against the loss.  The former does not mean that we don’t grieve.  Rather, it means that the loss is not the defining moment.

When my daughters were young, we celebrated one of their birthdays at Disneyland.  We had a great day despite it being hard for dad to be shelling out money all day long.  When it was time to go, one of my girls threw a temper tantrum in the parking lot.  I forget if I had said no to some request or if it was just because it was time to go.  At that point, I was a terrible father (at least in her view) for denying whatever it was she wanted at the time.  Our grievance story can be like that.  We throw a temper tantrum in the parking lot at Disneyland because it is time to go home.  We rage against the injustice of it all rather than rejoicing in the blessings that have been poured out on us all day long.

Grieving and keeping grievances are two different things.  Grieving is a healthy response to loss.  Keeping grievances tend to keep us stuck.  What you think about and how you think about your life can make a difference for you and those you are close to.  Rose tinting can really be a healthy practice in cultivating joy and peace.

[1] Knowing this lyric may be a sign of a misspent youth.

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Posted in: Agency, Grief, Resilience