Happiness, Depression…and Grit

frog on  stoveThe Frog and the Stove: There’s an anecdote you may have heard about a frog and a stove.  Boil some water, throw in a frog and you will see just how fast a frog can jump.  BUT… put that frog in a pan of cold water and turn the heat up slowly.  In five minutes you have a dead frog.  Why?  Because the change was so gradual that there was never one single moment for the frog to realize what was happening.  That is where we as Americans are, and more importantly, our children.

aaa sad girlThough we as a country live with creature comforts and hyper-technology never dreamed of even a decade or two ago, we, and particularly our children are much less happy and much more stressed.  Something is wrong.  

Statistically, our children, growing up in today’s world, will have a life span ten years shorter than ours.  TEN YEARS SHORTER. This is due directly to two things.  The STRESS our children go through every day, living the “good life” and the DIET our children are subsisting on every single day.

The suicide rate for teenage girls has tripled in just the past 15 years. And compared to the 1950s the number of attempted suicides and deaths is obscene.  Every single thing I have mentioned is preventable.

Depression is quickly rising to be the number 4 cause of death in America.  We are talking about over 100 million people with the affliction.  And with all that, we, as a country are now frantically searching for Happiness as if it is something tangible that we can buy if we have a big enough bank account.  Well…you can’t.  It doesn’t work that way.  In point of fact, it works just the opposite.  We are all canaries in a very dangerous mine that we don’t even understand.

hedonic treadmill

Accumulating STUFF only leads to the addiction: Gotta have MORE stuff. You never get to “Happy”

Hedonic Treadmill:  I’ve used a term often in the past couple of years:  The Hedonic Treadmill.  In the fifties, it was called “Keeping up with the Jones’s”  only today it has grown and morphed into something sinister, particularly with each new generation.

Your six-year-old in kindergarten may soon be twisting your arm that he or she absolutely must have a cell-phone, i-Pad, laptop, i-Phone or they won’t be able to survive.  The reality is:  we now have (new term?) the beginnings of technological addiction.

In South Korea, where cell-phone technology and gaming is even farther along than the US, there are rehab centers to help children and teenagers detox from their addictions.  America is not far behind

Now, stop and think for a moment.  Think of some of the past generations of Americans. Think of settlers, young families climbing into Conestoga wagons and striking out across unexplored wilderness to find a new life.  Those wagons didn’t have air conditioning, electricity, heat…water… a stove or even a  bathroom….much less WiFi.  Know what the suicide rate was?  Essentially Zilch.  Incidences of bulimia? Once again, nothing. Depression over a nasty Tweet?  Depression because your daughter doesn’t look like Taylor Swift?  C’mon.  You get the point.  It is an absolute fact that life will eventually give you some incredibly difficult things to handle.  Get your priorities straight…now.

GRIT:  I’m pretty sure that there are two or three entire generations who don’t even know the term.  And with that in mind, let me introduce you to a family that lives close enough that I might throw a baseball and have it roll into their yard.


Debbie Acrivos

Richard and Debbie Acrivos:  Are they one of a chosen few families who have survived having been dealt some pretty tough cards over the years?  Debbie would answer, “Oh hell, no!”  The last thing the Acrivos family is looking for is a pat on the head, or someone clapping for them.  And they only agreed to this article if they could ensure that this wasn’t the case.

What Debbie and Rick, and their two children, Ricky and Kim share, however, is a cheerful, gritty, positive attitude toward life, which no one would argue has been rough.

Rick and Deb

Rick, Debbie, and Ricky

While stationed in the Army in Panama they noticed that Ricky seemed to be bumping into things and had trouble balancing. (Because this is a long and complicated story, I’ll try to keep this as simple as possible.)  Ricky finally got the correct diagnosis, hydrocephalus, water on the brain, which has required a long and arduous fight with authorities and insurance companies so that Ricky could receive the necessary  63 operations…to date in order to survive.  Please take a moment to ponder that number.  63 operations, and counting.  56 of those operations dealt with the hydrocephalus.  Others have included back surgery.  Early on, the doctors informed Rick and Debbie that their son wouldn’t make it to 12 years old. Today, Ricky is 40, good-looking, smart and funny.

On top of the 63 operations, Debbie had chest pains, went to the hospital where it was determined that she would need  profoundly complicated heart surgery: A SEVEN-WAY BY-PASS.  The doctors informed them that the chances of her survival were slim.  At this point, Deb, confided one thing during the interview.  She knew that she had committed to taking care of her children.  She said simply:  “My job wasn’t done yet.”  As an aside, I asked, “Mother Teresa?”  She shook her head.  “No.”   I said two words:  “Momma bear?”  “Yeah, that’s more like it.  Nothing was gonna keep me from taking care of my kids…and my husband.”

7-Way Bypass: Are we done here?  Nope.  You need to witness what true grit and determination really are.  After surviving the 7-Way Bypass,  both Rick’s and Debbie’s mothers died.  And then there was the fire. ………And then there was the stroke which Debbie had, having to handle with Rick, just an amazing amount of stress.

aaaa familyOh, and there was the flood, too.  The Acrivos family operates an absolutely charming campground along the Catawba River, where people come from all over the country to get away from it all.  The flood washed about half their business away.  Rick fought back and today is is better than before.


upper falls great shot

Catawba Falls, a whole half of a mountain with gorgeous 350 strings of falls….a short walk from Debbie and Rick’s campground. www.catawbafalls.com

With all that, this very tight, loving family has not just survived, it has thrived.  And Rick, having handled all of this with Debbie, in addition to being with the ASA, Army Security Agency, was hit with one more challenging hand-of-cards.  His memory has come under attack, leaving gaping holes in what he has done, where he has served his country and it has permeated his entire life experience.  Despite all this, Rick has thanklessly served for 17 years as Executive Director for the Chamber of Commerce for the small town of Old Fort.

And there’s more, but I think you get the point.  Has the Acrivos family survived all of this?  Debbie and Rick answered this question with  big smiles.  Debbie’s answer:  “You betcha.”

Surprisingly, when asked if she always had the grit and stamina and attitude to handle this, she is utterly candid.  “No, when I was younger, I was kinda wussy, kind of shy.”  Sooo….what caused the change, Deb?  “Well, I guess you’d describe me as more spiritual than religious.  I figured God gave me the capacity to handle all this…..and I’m doing what I have to do.”


Rick Acrivos and another family member

I’m going to interject one thought now, which Deb can edit out if she likes.  I think if one person said to the Acrivos family, “Oh, I feel sorry for…”  they wouldn’t get a chance to finish the sentence.  Either Deb, or Rick or their daughter, Kim, or their son, Ricky would say,  “Don’t you dare…”

Sooo…….  Connecting the dots.  Why this article?  Why now?   We are living in troubled times.  The current path for our children, shorter lives, more highly stressed lives, less happiness, more complication.  Don’t complain.  Deb might say, “Don’t you dare complain.”  Every day, each of us is dealt a “hand of cards.”  It is NOT the cards you’re dealt.  It’s how you play that hand.  The Acrivos family, every single one of them, and their extended family as well are cheerful survivors who live the Golden Rule every day.

We can all learn.



6 Responses to "Happiness, Depression…and Grit"

  1. Liz McCarter says:

    We need more people like the Acrivos.
    Our parents and grandparents knew all about grit. They weren’t quitters in marriage, making due with limited means, and the family was first and foremost in their lives.
    Nobody went into debt for Christmas or birthdays, or bought a huge house just to keep up an image. They knew better.
    There is a time to live within your means and to give your family your precious time, not a pile of plastic disposable stuff.
    Again, we need more Acrivos.

  2. Henry Harvey says:

    They are around, Liz. Living down in the Carolinas for close to a year, Pam and I have noticed a profound difference in the children and teenagers. We see very little brooding, and sullenness. Much more actual playing outdoors and interacting with other generations. There might be something to the theory that more money begins to corrupt.
    Thanks for writing in, Liz!

  3. Henry Harvey says:

    I really like this post. I would add that it’s important
    to know that individual resilience factors are key,
    and the data supports that.

    They include:
    Emotional stability/ emotional skills (sense of humor, empathy)
    Problem-solving (help-seeking, creative thinking behaviors)
    Physical health factors (physical energy, physical
    Community connection (developing a sense of connectedness to your community and your neighborhood, getting involved in what’s going on outside of your own problems)

    Bottom Line:
    When these factors go up, your resilience goes up,
    which means you are more “protected” against the
    vulnerabilities in life.

    I’ve seen it happen time and time again as a social worker.

    That’s my two cents….


  4. Henry Harvey says:

    Thanks for writing in, Melissa! As a social worker you are right on the front lines of what is going on. The frustrating thing I see is that it’s one thing to list the qualities that these innocents really need to have. But it’s a bugger to get them to have these qualities. The word, entitlement is bandied about a lot, but with total immersion in the world of cellphones and computers, these kids and young adults with their sponge-like minds, soaking it all up, perceive that the life they see on those little glowing screens is reality. And, of course, reality is a LOT different.
    Thanks for writing!

  5. henry harvey says:

    An awesome article Henry! What a life they live…and live fully! I’m sure for all peoples, that the experiences we go through, make us the people we become. Lessons learned or if not we get a bigger challenge until we pay attention and finally learn that lesson.
    I think you could interview every person you come in contact with and each would have a story of some kind that most people knowing them wouldn’t suspect. We are very complex below what we put out to the world, aren’t we?
    Lorelle Bacon

  6. henry harvey says:

    Hey Lorelle!

    Good to hear from you! In the less-than-a-year we’ve lived here, we have met some phenomenal people and made more friends than in a decade up where we were before. And you’re absolutely right, everyone has their story, though Deb and Rick have a pretty impressive story.


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