Imagine Losing Everything

The Holmes and Rahe stress scale lists 43 stress-inducing life events assigning a stress level number to each. If more than one happens to you within a year, you’re supposed to add their numbers up and the resulting number will help determine whether the stress level will likely break you.

I learned of this scale when I was a wee lad of 19 or 20 and remember being profoundly moved by the (obvious) fact that the big traumatic events were still all ahead of me. It put the troubles that concerned me at the time into perspective. By the way, the scale itself, like most things in psychology and sociology is a generalization that makes a point but obviously is not some universal meter of trauma applicable in all cases. It’s a mix of science and philosophy, kind of like well-run political polls.

old-man-aloneI think trauma of any kind has a silver lining in that it puts all our “problems” into perspective. It’s a punch in the face that reminds you that life is precious, finite, and sometimes shitty. So, you should enjoy every non-shitty bit.

I’ve changed in the last few years in my relationship with material goods. I’ve come to put less value in inanimate objects like cars, books, furniture, apartments, etc and more value in people and ideas. One of the ways I’ve arrived at this way of thinking is the simple thought exercise: imagine losing everything you own. And then try to imagine what you will miss most. At first, the material goods might seem valuable, but if you honestly spend time thinking about it in the context of your life, I think their value will quickly erode. It did for me at least.

I don’t mean to sound all hippy-like. I think that the pursuit of money and material wealth can be an exciting one, and provide meaning and pleasure, and in many ways is the kind of pursuit that is at the core of the capitalism. But for me, in a world where nothing is permanent, I like to roam in the realm of ideas not things. That’s why I have gravitated towards the “things” I can’t hang up on a wall: a challenging book, a heated debate with a stranger, or a simple conversation with a long-time friend.

For the record, here are the 43 traumatic events from most to least stressful:

  • Death of a spouse 100
  • Divorce 73
  • Marital separation 65
  • Imprisonment 63
  • Death of a close family member 63
  • Personal injury or illness 53
  • Marriage 50
  • Dismissal from work 47
  • Marital reconciliation 45
  • Retirement 45
  • Change in health of family member 44
  • Pregnancy 40
  • Sexual difficulties 39
  • Gain a new family member 39
  • Business readjustment 39
  • Change in financial state 38
  • Death of a close friend 37
  • Change to different line of work 36
  • Change in frequency of arguments 35
  • Major mortgage 32
  • Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
  • Change in responsibilities at work 29
  • Child leaving home 29
  • Trouble with in-laws 29
  • Outstanding personal achievement 28
  • Spouse starts or stops work 26
  • Begin or end school 26
  • Change in living conditions 25
  • Revision of personal habits 24
  • Trouble with boss 23
  • Change in working hours or conditions 20
  • Change in residence 20
  • Change in schools 20
  • Change in recreation 19
  • Change in church activities 19
  • Change in social activities 18
  • Minor mortgage or loan 17
  • Change in sleeping habits 16
  • Change in number of family reunions 15
  • Change in eating habits 15
  • Vacation 13
  • Christmas 12
  • Minor violation of law 11

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