My home away from home is Long Beach, NY, where I spend every weekend for half the year surfing, playing beach volleyball, splashing in the ocean with my kids, and hanging out with my friends generally enjoying life.
So my heart has been broken lately to see the total devastation that Long Beach has gone through with Hurricane Sandy. Many people that I know have lost their homes, their cars, their belongings, etc.
Although recovery is in progress, there has been no electricity, no water, no plumbing or sewer system, and the town has been evacuated. This beautiful beach paradise has become a literal disaster zone.
I was trying to think about what lessons I could draw from positive psychology that could possibly help people who lost so much and I was reminded of the earthquake in Japan. The Japanese people were recognized for their resilience and heartiness in the face of this great tragedy.
One writer, Tim Patterson, noted that the Japanese resolve was reflected in their langauge. As he communicated with his ex-girlfriend in Tokyo in the days following the crisis, he observed the following phrases:
Shoga Nai: This is basically the equivalent of “shit happens.” Or accepting the things that you cannot change. In psychology, acceptance is a key part of mindfulness: observing what is going on with acceptance and equanimity.
Acceptance helps us to avoid spiraling down by lamenting things we cannot change and is a good base from which to move forward focusing on what we most value.
Ganbatte: According to Patterson, this is the cry that Japanese sports fans will use to cheer on their favorite athletes. It is a cry of encouragement telling people to “go for it” and do their best.
In the days following Hurricane Sandy, I have seen Long Beach residents supporting each other in this way. They have cheered each other on with words of hope such as “Long Beach: Down but not Out” and “We Will Rebuild.”
Gaman: Patterson says the Carp seen in Japanese flags and kites is a national symbol of “gaman” or perseverance. The Carp embodies the spirit of gaman by tirelessly swimming upstream. Patterson defines gaman as the ability “to struggle and persist in an endeavor without complaining, despite seemingly insurmountable challenges.”
Most of my friends in Long Beach are not wasting time complaining about what has happened to them. They are focused on how they can move forward and rebuild.
Ittai: Another article on the Japanese earthquake cites the Japanese prime minister Naoko Kan talking about “ittai” or the Japanese people “becoming one body.” The community came closer together after the earthquake and the tragedy brought out a sense of unity and brotherhood.
The people I know in Long Beach are more worried about their neighbors than they are themselves. Long Beach citizens have been uniting to help those in the greatest need.
We all know that the natural reaction to stress is “fight or flight.” People in stressful situations are predicted to become more aggressive or “leave the scene.” But this is not what we are seeing in Long Beach. In stead, people are reaching out to others and looking for ways they can help each other out.
New research suggests, that “fight or flight” does not tell the whole story. We also “tend and befriend.” When people come through a stressful situation, they become more cooperative, social and friendly, “a connection that may be responsible, at least in part, for our survival as a species.”
My beloved friends in Long Beach are coming together in this way, and it is an inspiration to see. And while some scars from this tragedy will remain for years to come, they will also look to the future with a deeper bond to each other and to their town, and a new perspective on the important aspects of life.
Ittai Long Beach. Ganbatte!
Please send any donations for Long Beach (supplies) to 157 E Sunrise Hwy, Freeport, NY 11520, attention Chris Musto.
Or monetary donations to http://www.jaimewhelanfoundation.com/ a 501(c)(3).
I will be donating 100% of the revenues from e-book purchases this month through my website. See The Psychology of Spas and Wellbeing.
by Jeremy McCarthy