WHY WORRY? CHAPTER XI
THE WORRIER AT HOME
BY: GEORGE LINCOLN WALTON, M.D.
CONSULTING NEUROLOGIST TO THE MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL
THE WORRIER AT HOME
Small habits, well pursued betimes,
More than one "sunbeam" and "life of the party" in society is the "cross patch" and "fuss budget" of the home. His gracious smiles and quips abroad are matched at home by darkened brows and moody silence, only broken by conversation of the italicized variety: "Will it ever stop raining?" "Can't you see that I am busy?" "What are you doing?" and the like. Whatever banner is exhibited to the outside world, the motto at home seems to be "Whatever is, is wrong." Defects in the ménage, carefully overlooked when dining out, are called with peculiar unction to the attention of the housekeeper of the home, whose worry to please is only matched by the "sunbeam's" fear that she shall think him satisfied with what is placed before him.
May reach the dignity of crimes.
"There's something kind of pitiful about a man that growls
Because the sun beats down too hot, because the wild wind howls,
Who never eats a meal but that the cream ain't thick enough,
The coffee ain't been settled right, or else the meat's too tough--
Poor chap! He's just the victim of Fate's oldest, meanest trick,
You'll see by watching mules and men, they don't need brains to kick."
Add to the "kicking habit" the insistence that each member of the family must be reminded at frequent intervals of his peculiar weaknesses, and that the discussion of uncomfortable topics, long since worn threadbare, must be reopened at every available opportunity, and the adage is justified,
"be it ever so humble, there's no place like home."
Try the following suggestion on approaching the house after a hard day's work. Say to yourself, "Why tired and cross? Why not tired and good-natured?" The result may startle the family and cause inquiries for your health, but "Don't Worry," if it does; console yourself with the thought they will like you none the less for giving them a glimpse of that sunny nature of which they have often heard.
As a further preparation for the evening meal, and the evening, by way of alleviating the mental and physical discomfort following a trying day, one is surprised by the effectiveness of taking a bath and changing all the clothing. This treatment, in fact, almost offers a sure cure, but the person who would be most benefited thereby, is the person so obsessed to pursue the miserable tenor of his way that he scouts the suggestion that he thus bestir himself, instead of sinking into the easy chair. He may, however, accept the suggestion that simply changing the shoes and stockings is extremely restful, when reminded that if he had worn kid gloves all day he would be relieved to free his hands from the incubus, and, if gloves must still be worn, to put on a cool pair.
It is a further aid to physical, and indirectly to mental, comfort, if one can learn to wear low shoes and the thinnest of underwear the year round; the former offer a panacea for fidgets; the latter lessens the perspiration, which increases the susceptibility to drafts, and to even moderate lowering of temperature. The prevailing belief that this procedure is dangerous is disproved by the experience of the many who have given it a thorough trial. The insistent belief of the neurotic that he cannot acquire this habit is touched upon in the chapter on Worry and Obsession. If he thinks he is "taking cold," let him throw back his shoulders and take a few deep breaths, or if convenient, a few exercises, instead of doubling the weight of his underwear, and in the long run he will find that he has not only increased his comfort, but has lessened, rather than increased, the number of his colds.
Much of the worry of the home is retrospective. "If I had only made Mary wear her rubbers,"--"If we had only invested in Calumet & Hecla at 25,"--"If we had only sent John to college," represent a fruitful source of family discomfort. The morbid rhyme is familiar to all:
"Of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest these, 'It might have been.'"
I should be glad to learn of any advantage accruing from the indulgence of this attitude toward the bygone. A happier and more sensible habit of mind may be attained by equal familiarity with the following:
"Add this suggestion to the verse,
'It might have been a great deal worse.'"
A fruitful source of discomfort for the worrier at home is the absence of occupation. He looks forward to mental rest after using his brain all day, but there is no rest for him unless in sleep. The most valuable rest he could give his mind would be to occupy it with something worth while, yet not so strenuous as to cause solicitude. As Saleeby points out, the mock worry of a game is a good antidote for the real worry of life, and a game is far better than nothing, unless the player make, in turn, a work of his play, in which case worry continues.
The hardest task for the worrier at home is to get away from home. With advancing years the temptation grows upon us to spend our evenings by the fireside, to make no new friends and seek no new enjoyments. But this unbroken habit is neither the best preparation for a happy old age, nor the best method of counteracting present worry. Nor should one stop to decide whether the special entertainment in question will be worthwhile--he must depend rather on the realization that if he accepts most opportunities he will be, on the whole, the gainer.
The man whose occupation keeps him in-doors all day should make special effort to pass some time in the open air, if possible walking or driving to and from his place of business, and taking at least a stroll in the evening.
As more than one writer has suggested, the best resource is the fad. The fad (Webmaster's note: "fad" is being used here much as we might use "hobby" today.) will prove an inestimable boon after withdrawing from active work, but it should be commenced long before one discontinues business, else the chances are that he will never take it up, but will fret away his time like the average man who retires from an occupation which has engrossed his attention.
The fad should not be pursued too strenuously, or its charm is lost. A lady once told me that she had given up studying flowers because she found she could not master botany in the time at her disposal. Another sees no use in taking up history unless he can become an authority on some epoch. Another declines to study because he can never overtake the college graduate. But one of the best informed men of my acquaintance had no college education. One of his fads was history, with which he was far more familiar than any but the exceptional college man, outside the teachers of that branch of learning.
The usefulness of the fad does not depend upon the perfection attained in its pursuit, but upon the pleasure in its pursuit, and upon the diversion of the mind from its accustomed channels. The more completely one learns to concentrate his thoughts on an _avocation_, the more enthusiasm and effectiveness he can bring to bear on his _vocation_ in its turn. A fad that occupies the hands, such as carpentering, turning, or photography, is peculiarly useful if one's taste runs in that direction.
One handicap in cultivating the fad is the lack of interest on the part of our associates, but if we become genuinely interested in any fad that is at all worth while, we shall inevitably add new acquaintances likely to prove at least as interesting as those of our present friends, who have no thoughts outside their daily round of toil. The more fads one cultivates, so long as he avoids the obsession to obtrude them at all times and places, the more interesting he will, in his turn, become to others.
The over-solicitude that defeats its own end, in the case of a parent, has been admirably portrayed by Arthur Benson in "Beside Still Waters,"--"there was nothing in the world that he more desired than the company and the sympathy of his children; but he had, beside this, an intense and tremulous sense of his responsibility toward them. He attached an undue importance to small indications of character, and thus the children were seldom at ease with their father, because he rebuked them constantly, and found frequent fault, doing almost violence to his tenderness, not from any pleasure in censoriousness, but from a terror, that was almost morbid, of the consequences of the unchecked development of minute tendencies."
Something must be left to natural growth, and to fortune, even in such important matters as the rearing of children.
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