The shell necklace
It began with a stressful day at office. Nothing seemed to be going right at the moment. Work pressure, relationship issues and no time for self. Her life was a prototype for the young women of today. Gone were the days where she was full of laughter and enthusiasm. Always ready to try new things and explore the untried. It had been months since she took a vacation or even went out with friends. Even watching a movie at home made her feel guilty about the wasted time.
As she stared out at the traffic from her cab she tried to remember the last time she had had a genuine smile on her face. A smile that lit up her entire soul. Actually it was not too long back. It was at this very signal. She had been staring out and suddenly a little girl on the bike next to her began making faces at her. There began a war of funny faces till they both were giggling and so were the passer byes. As the signal turned green the little girl gave her a huge flying kiss and that bought a huge smile to her face.
When was the last time she felt good about herself. Last weekend at the supermarket. She helped an old woman understand how to use the debit card. The old lady pinched her cheek and told her how smart she was and blessed her with a bright future.
When was the last time she felt beautiful. When was the last time she looked into the mirror and did not worry about the weight gain? Well last Sunday, all dusty and sweaty after cleaning the kitchen, she had made tea and shared it with her maid. Suddenly the maid told her that she had beautiful eyes and she had actually blushed like a teenager.
None of these incidents were related to what she thought would make her happy. None were related to her getting a raise, or involved her partner or even involved going out with friends. Yes all these were the reality of her life and would give her immense satisfaction but were they the only factors that would give her self-esteem a boost?
We all need a boost to our self-esteem. It’s our basic emotional need right up the basic physiological needs. No matter how confident we are or how sure we are about ourselves we all crave for positive strokes.
Had she not read enough and plenty of research about positive reinforcement? How it affects behaviour, how it motivates and how it increases happiness. Some theories even proposed that a sudden withdrawal of positive reinforcement can cause depression.
She knew she was missing these positive strokes. No matter how hard she worked the pay check did not give positive strokes. No matter how hard she tried to balance work and home life someone was always dissatisfied. It did not matter how many hours she worked out the weighing scale was just not ready to acknowledge it. Her partner no longer told her she was beautiful and the new course she was taking certainly did not make her feel smart.
However for once the traffic jam was a blessing in disguise. It made her realise that while she looked for reinforcement and positive strokes in some spheres, she completely ignored those which were all around her.
How many times had she disregarded genuine compliments? How many times had she not acknowledged them as sources of positive reinforcement? Only because they did not come from people she wanted them from. Or maybe because she believed they were just random remarks. Perhaps it was the deeply ingrained modesty in her that did not want to accept them.
So many times she had shot down these compliments? Calling them her duty or just a part of her training or something that anyone would do. Helping the old lady with the debit card was a part of something anyone would do, but she did do it. It had nothing to do with her smartness. These days even children could use debit cards. However never once she looked at it from the point of view of that lady. That old woman gave genuine praise not for the act but for the gesture behind it.
The maid found her eyes beautiful, not because they had been carefully made up but because the maid saw the values of equality, dignity for all and compassion in them. But aren’t these values something everyone should have. Absolutely! But then she having them does not make her less beautiful.
Positive strokes are everywhere around us. In random smiles, in simple gestures and heartfelt remarks.
She remembered the last time she walked down the beach. While her friends looked for the biggest sea shell, she chose to pick up smaller ones. While her friends threw back into the ocean shell after shell thinking that the next one will be bigger, she already had a bag full of them.
As soon as she got back home she strung all these sea shells together to make a beautiful necklace and wore it work the next day. And got unbelievable number of compliments for such a unique necklace.
She decided to pick up these small shells every single time and preserve them because in the end they will make her feel happiest.
She did come home wiser. After all when she thanked the cab driver he had the biggest smile on his face. Perhaps she gave him his positive stroke of the day.