If you assign a positive meaning to a loss, the loss could become a gain.
I remember the gleam in my elder daughter’s eyes when she (finally) discovered her first loose tooth. She looked forward to the visit from the tooth fairy. The tooth fairy, she had heard, was magical and kind, and she left interesting notes and of course brought money. In fact, not having a single loose tooth, when every child around you is gloriously shedding teeth, can be very stressful for a six-year-old.
In a survey of children who had become aware of the unreality of the tooth fairy, a full 75 percent reported liking the custom. I believe tooth fairies across the world have given kids more joy than most real-life characters have.
Fast-forward fifty years. How do you feel about the tooth fairy visiting you at age sixty? We spend all our life brushing and flossing to prevent that from happening, and when it does, we spend money and tolerate pain to fix it.
The difference between the two experiences is the meaning. A loose tooth at age five means we are growing and conforming to the expected norm. A fresh tooth is also waiting in the wings. A loose tooth at age sixty reflects the failure of our efforts. It reminds us that we are getting older and are finite.
As intelligent beings, we have a choice. Recognizing that the same loss could bring different emotions that depend not on the loss itself but on its meaning, what if we could change the meaning of our losses? What if loose and lost teeth could reflect the arrival of wisdom? What if we could be grateful that the tooth served us for all these years, that we have many more teeth that continue to serve us, and that much better care is available now to preserve the remaining teeth? What if we could see a lost tooth as a reminder to take better care of ourselves? What if we also could be more compassionate toward those who do not have the privilege of good dental care or who have a medical condition that causes premature tooth loss?
If we cultivate that attitude, we might transform our loss into a gain—that of wisdom. Perhaps that’s the meaning of losses. A loss or gain is a judgment based on the meaning you assign to an experience. Both losses and gains help us obtain wisdom.
May you have more gains than losses; may you develop wisdom through both gains and losses.
@AmitSoodMD (on Twitter)