I recently listened to a New Year’s Day health piece on NPR’s online radio that got me thinking. It was called “Editing Your Life Stories Can Create Happier Endings“.
Starting with an anecdote, the speaker explained her young nephew’s intense fear of a large Frankenstein statue, and how he eventually overcame that fear by slightly modifying his memory of how he reacted when he saw it. Instead of remembering that horrible feeling of fright as he ran away to find his mother, this clever little boy made up a new ending. Now, when asked what happened when he saw the big Frankenstein statue, he declares proudly, “I pooped and peed on Frankenstein!”. With this little fantastic addition to the story, his fear is replaced by confidence. The confidence is reaffirmed every time he says he peed on Frankenstein.
The speaker then referred to research by a Professor James Pennebaker and UT Austin (hook ’em horns!), who has looked at the effect that editing your life stories can have on your disposition.
“A little tweak to our story can go a long way to changing what we do and how happy we are… Bad stories can actually bring you down.”
They are self-reinforcing a negative outcome, instead of making sense of it.
This got me thinking of the implications and benefits this can have not only for singular events, but also for long-term situations to which a person must adapt… like… oh, let’s say… being an expatriate or immigrant. The first three years of my time here in Italy were the only three years of my life that I did not keep a diary, and clearly they were the three when I probably needed that exercise the most.
Pennebaker’s studies gave writing assignments to test subjects as a way to deal with negative events. In writing about the events, the subjects processed the entire event and came to much sunnier conclusions. In a way, that’s what I try to do here on ‘Married to Italy’.
You may have noticed I’ve been a bit absent lately from the blog. There have been a string of events that I have been hesitant to write about, lest I spew venom all over bella Italia and it’s lovely inhabitants.
However, after hearing this lovely story of The Boy Who Peed on Frankenstein, I think I’m ready to drop my pants on Italy.
I mean that in the nicest of ways, really. I looked back over some of my photos from the past 5 years and I realized that, despite the homesickness and difficulty adapting, I’ve had a pretty awesome time. In fact, it was this week 5 years ago that I officially became a resident of this little town! Sure, it took me 12 insanely frustrating visits to the Anagrafe. Sure, it involved a somewhat embarrassing display of my messy bedroom to the Carabinieri as proof of my intentions. But, looking back on things, that was a pretty big milestone that somehow got lost in the chaos of daily life.
Anyway, I guess this is a long winded way of saying that I’m here. I’m feeling refreshed and ready to tackle 2014. And I’m hoping to deliver some good stories – both about new events and also about events that have gotten lost over the past 5 years. If anyone wants to stay tuned to my Instagram profile, I’m going to be posting some of the highlights of bygone Januaries. I think it might turn into a nice little start-of-the-month tradition, looking back at how I’ve changed since arriving in Italy.
As luck would have it, I have the great pleasure of rotation curating the 53rd week of the @I_am_Italy Twitter account this week! I’ll be “representing the Italian voice” (good Lord, help us all) from today (as soon as I figure out how) until next Sunday, which just happens to be not only La Famiglia’s annual Majalata but also my birthday! (I am turning 30-ehhemcoughhacksputter).
Pretty great start to the year, I think.
With any luck, by this time next year, I’ll be able to say, “I pooped and peed on 2014!”