Why “I Love Lucy” Is My New Positive Intervention

Positive re-runs

September 8, 2012

I am a football lover.  Despite the fact that the Washington Redskins have been abysmal to

“Casablanca” had the power to charm my concussed son’s brain back to health.

the point of hopeless for years, I have always loved the game, and didn’t have too many qualms when my youngest son adopted it as his favorite competitive outlet.  Starting when he was young, he enjoyed the physical nature of hitting people and getting hit, which meant he played on the line, often both offense and defense.  There were many games when he was rarely off the field, except for punt returns.

Going into his 9th grade year, though, he suffered not just one, but two concussions in quick succession at a pre-season football practice.  I wish I’d known then what I know now, because news of the seriousness of these injuries was just beginning to be publicized and I’d never had to deal with this type of injury in any of my children before (crew and swimming simply don’t result in random head hits).  Overnight I became an expert as my son went to bed with headaches, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.  The visits to the concussion clinic every week became graver as the computerized tests showed that his brain was not functioning well enough for him to even start high school, let alone consider returning to football.

Every week I sat in the waiting room of the Children’s Hospital clinic, surrounded by dazed young male and female athletes and their worried parents.  We all answered the alarming questions on the checklists, which included “Does your child remember where his/her bedroom is?” and “Does food fall out of your child’s mouth while he/she eats?” One mother turned to me one day as her pretty blonde daughter sat silently next to her and explained why they were there.  “She got hit in the head with a ball at field hockey camp and can’t tie her shoes.”  I just sat there, wide-eyed and wordless.

One week the doctor called me in to talk about the latest results of Bayard’s computer tests that charted his mental agility.  “He’s getting worse, not better,” he said to me grimly.  “What did he do this week?”

The answer was that my son had tried to do some homework that had been sent home by his teachers, including some conjugation of French verbs.  He had also listened to a thriller on tape, because he couldn’t read yet.

“If you are thinking too hard, or feeling stressed in any way, you are reconcussing your brain,” he said.  “Your job,” he said, turning to my son, “is to go home and not think for a week.  Then come back and let’s see what happens.”

Not think for a week?  How do you do that?  My son figured it out for himself.  He refrained from listening to any books that had violence, suspense or complicated plots.  He refused to try to do any homework.  But he sorted baseball cards.  Listened to happy music. And he rented “Casablanca and watched it three times in a row one day, saying it was the most pleasant and satisfying day he’d ever had.

A week later we went back and the scores had shot up.  Our lesson that week – that thinking too hard or watching/hearing stories that were complicated or sad, prevented a hurt brain from healing – was driven home.

I thought of that miserable six-week period of isolated recuperation this week when I saw a study showing that imagining watching a favorite television re-run, or writing about a favorite television show, resulted in increased energy and willpower stores among people who had been deliberately depleted.  The researcher, Jaye Derrick, PhD at the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions, found that watching a familiar show where you have a relationship with the characters and you already know what is going to happen in this fictional world, leads to enjoyment and prepares you to tackle a difficult task.  Watching new episodes of the same show doesn’t have the same impact, however.  Familiar books had the same positive impact (which explains why daughter took the entire Harry Potter series to college with her, and reported that perusing them in times of stress was her trusty go-to solution).

“Based on my research, I would argue that watching television is not all bad.  While there is a great deal of research demonstrating that violent television can increase aggression, and watching television may be contributing to the growing obesity epidemic, watching a favorite television show can provide a variety of benefits, which may enhance overall wellbeing,” Derrick noted.

As an applied Positive Psychology practitioner, I’m always looking for ways to enhance well-being, particularly when it fosters conditions that lead to success with one’s goals.  Willpower, or self-regulation, is one of the most necessary traits if we are trying to get something done and temptations and distractions abound, so I am now giving myself permission to watch my favorite television re-run of all time: the “I Love Lucy” episode where Lucy films an increasingly drunken ad for the magical “Vitameatavegimin.”  If you need a laugh or a well-being boost, I strongly suggest you take a few minutes to sit back and watch this classic clip from one of the greatest shows of our time:

Caroline Adams Miller

Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP is a pioneer with her ground-breaking work in the areas of goal-setting/accomplishment, grit, happiness and success. Caroline is the author of seven books, including Positively CarolineMy Name is Caroline,  Creating Your Best Life and Getting Grit Live Happy Magazine named Creating Your Best Life one of the top ten goal-setting books ever published and Getting Grit one of the ten books that will change your life in 2017.  She has been featured in BBC World NewsThe New York TimesThe Washington Post, USA Today, U.S. News &World Report, ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR and CNN.  Caroline  is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. And, she has more than three decades of unbroken recovery from bulimia.

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