Psychiatrist George Vaillant, the analyst of the study that followed a cohort of well-adjusted Harvard sophomores for over 70 years found that those who aged well employed mature adaptations – altruism, humor, anticipating and planning for the future, exchanging immediate gratification for future rewards, and finding healthy outlets for feelings.
He described the ability to employ adaptations as “real-life alchemy, a way of turning the dross of emotional crises, pain, and deprivation into the gold of human connection, accomplishment, and creativity”.
We all want the pure gold of human connection, accomplishment, and creativity. But pure gold has to be refined. Without the refining process, gold contains many impurities.
Those that work with metal describe the scum of impurities that form on the surface of molten metal as dross.
Like gold ore, we’ve all got dross. And when we get heated in the fire of life, our impurities float to the surface.
Vaillant says that what we do with those determines how well we live. Do we turn inward, focus on ourselves, and pull those impurities back into our lives?
Or do we look outwards? To relationships. To the needs of others. To the future. To the joy and gratitude of life.
We cannot control what happens to us. But we can control how we respond to it.
I know someone who when faced with hard times or is in a ‘bad mood’ looks around to see who she can help. Instead of letting her dross fester, she gets rid of it.
We all have dross. Personally, I’m getting tired of some of my dross. I want to get rid of the impurities in my life. Looking outside of myself seems like a good step in the right direction.