Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Environmental Influences

According to my mother's latest email, my father is miserably depressed because he thinks I don't love him anymore. He thinks I don't love him anymore because I never visit.

She left out that he is also trying to quit chewing, so he is going through some really bad withdrawal right now. Why would that have anything to do with his emotional state? Nor does she contemplate that his moping might be due to the fact that she only talks about people dying of cancer or war or old age.

She's a tricky one.

Regardless, her email made me think a lot about happiness...specifically, how childhood environmental conditioning affects adult happiness.

When I was a child, I spent 90% of my free time outside. I was Indiana Jane, and I explored every last inch of our 100-acre woods. I collected "specimens" in Maxwell House coffee cans, turning over every rock in hopes of finding the "big one". I once found a trout in our creek, which is really weird because our creek is only a few inches deep in most parts and doesn't really connect to any larger body of water. I once read somewhere that fish eggs can be transported in raindrops...or maybe I dreamed that. Regardless, it definitely fell under the classification of a "big one".

I picked berries in the summer and filled the house with fresh wild-flowers every day until the snow came. In the winter, I built forts and tried to ice-skate on puddles. Then, in the spring, I started it all over again. I planted crops and chased chickens. I learned that goats don't discriminate--they bite children as well as adults without regard to any concept of "innocence". I learned how to knock cans off of fences with BB guns and how to start fire with flint.

Accordingly, I learned to stay out of the water during the dog days of summer because it was stagnant and disease riddent. I also learned to avoid starting fires during droughts. Contrary to popular American belief, children aren't stupid and will not be idiots if you don't allow them to be idiots.

Now, years later, I sit under fluorescent lights in a city without stars--at least without the ones that hang in the sky. You never smell soil here, and the odor of grass is always combined with that of gasoline and smoke from the weed wackers and lawn mowers. City folk have an obsession with growing perfect grass only to cut it down to barely-there status. There are weeks where I may get a total of 5 hours of sunlight on my body, and my lungs barely remember what "clean" air feels like.

We study so many things in science, especially in the area of mood. We spend billions on drugs and therapy and guesswork. We spend a lot of time contemplating why "bad" things in childhood cause us to feel "bad" or act "bad" in adulthood, but we rarely talk about why "good" things in childhood--or even just things in general--may be required for us to feel "good" in adulthood. Would I be happier if I moved to Alaska and spent my days collecting soil samples?

I don't know.

1 Comments:

At 11:58 AM, Blogger Katie said...

What a great post! It brought back a lot of my own childhood memories of exploring. Finding things like a bone, a pretty feather, or an unusual stone became treasures to my childhood mind.

 

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