I remember the gleam in my elder daughter’s eyes when she (finally) discovered her first loose tooth.
That meant a visit from the tooth fairy. The tooth fairy, she had heard, was magical and kind, left interesting notes, and some real money. Not having a single loose tooth when every child around you is gloriously shedding teeth can be very stressful for a 6-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.
Fast-forward 50 years. How do you feel about the tooth fairy visiting you at age 60? We spend all our life brushing and flossing to prevent that from happening, and when it does, we spend money and tolerate the pain to fix it.
The difference between the two experiences is the meaning. A loose tooth at age 5 means we are growing and conforming to the expected norm. A new tooth is also waiting in the wings. A loose tooth at age 60 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 a loose tooth 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 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.
I pray you have more gains than losses, and develop wisdom through both.
Dr. Amit Sood answers your questions about stress, resilience, happiness, relationships, and related topics in his column. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.