The Anniversary Effect: Why We Relive Sad Things Every Year

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” ― Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein

Our son Gavin died today. 9 years ago.

…but first,

Here we are now. Nine years later. Doing our best.

Since that time that our son passed we had and lost three foster children, my wife had a stroke and suffered temporary memory loss, my son (in the middle there) was hit by a car and should be dead, a few broken bones, ill-intentioned people taking advantage, random accidents here and there…and a lot of fun doing what we love around the world. Such is life. After this picture was taken my son on the right broke his foot and my wife broke her tailbone. Such is life. We move forward. 😉

This is one of the only pictures we have as a family with our 4 boys. We were at the Eddie 2009/10. This event at Waimea was 1 of only 9 Eddies that ever ran in 35 years. Our friend randomly saw us and snapped this shot. So grateful. ⁣

I know many of you are hurting.

Maybe you’ve had a child die. Whatever it is…don’t compare your pain to others. Sometimes people downplay their pain saying it wasn’t as bad as ours.

Pain is like gas — it fills the whole room — pain fills your whole body and soul.⁣

Some things that have helped me keep perspective is that pain, depression, sadness, life is a tunnel not a cave. ⁣

It’s a tunnel, not a cave.

You don’t have to move on.

Your experience is part of you and your story. It doesn’t have to define you, but it can be a part of you. Move forward with that new perspective and make good on it.⁣

It’s ok to feel bad and sad.

Don’t punish yourself for feeling down. Don’t punish yourself or feel guilty for feeling good when something bad has happened. Just be. It’s ok.⁣ You can search for meaning in hardship, but you can assign meaning too.

Assign positive meaning to your hardships and try to make life better for others as a result.⁣

I’ve written books, articles, made videos, audios, speeches and more that have reached MILLIONS with Gavin’s story. More importantly, our family has built a life around the experience surrounding his short life here. Can’t wait to see him again on the other side with Natalie’s brother and my grandpa. ;)⁣

Why Do We Relive Painful Experiences on Their Anniversaries

Because we’re human.

The Anniversary Effect

It’s called the “anniversary effect.”

“Anniversary Effect”, sometimes called Anniversary Reaction, is defined as a unique set of unsettling feelings, thoughts or memories that occur on the anniversary of a significant experience. Sometimes you can trace the reason why you’re feeling sad, irritable or anxious.” — Psychology Today

Your brain is a powerful calculator. In fact, sometimes we may not even know it’s the anniversary of a painful memory and our body just starts getting sluggish. It’s ok. It’s ok to not feel ok. It’s a coping mechanism.

That said,

…a bad day shouldn’t turn into a bad life.

Our sweet baby boy Gavin passed away only living 76 days. He caught Pertussis (whooping cough) and it was too much on his tiny body. We promised each other we wouldn’t let it tear us apart. It didn’t. We promised each other it would bring us closer together. It did.

Now we try to honor his life by living our best selves and taking action on opportunities. I pray we continue to do so. I pray you can learn from our trials and his life too. Follow what we call Gavin’s Law: Live to Start. Start to Live.

Gavin’s Law: Live to Start. Start to Live.

Very shortly after the death of our son, my wife, Natalie, and I went to listen to a friend and mentor of mine who was giving a speech at a university near our home in Hawaii. After her presentation, she came to where we were sitting to say hello and to offer her condolences.

After chatting for a few moments, she looked Natalie straight in the eye, and abruptly asked, “So, what have you learned?” Admittedly, I was somewhat taken aback b y the intensity of her question. Thankfully, Natalie — always on her toes — offered a gracious, eloquent, and genuine response, as I stood by, somewhat dumbfounded.

The months passed, but I couldn’t forget this question:

“So, what have you learned?”

Gavin’s Law

That question changed my life. Here were the facts: my brother-in-law was gone, our son was gone, and there wasn’t a thing in the world I could do to change any of that. Suddenly, my life took on a very real sense of urgency.There was, in fact, a time limit!

Transcendent to the sense of urgency I felt, I found myself face to face with the realization that circumstance was completely outside my realm of control.Not only this particular set of circumstances, but circumstance in general.

I suddenly realized that if we are sitting around waiting — maybe even begging and pleading — for our circumstances to change so that we can finally live life the way we really want to live, chances are very good that we will stay stuck waiting forever.

There will always be a million reasons to wait until later. This is simply the nature of the animal called life. Those Gavins taught me to live, today. I’ve summed up the lesson I learned from the deaths of my brother-in-law and my son into what I call Gavin’s Law:

Live to start. Start to live.

Don’t Wait. Start Stuff.

People are innately passionate about certain unique aspects of life. You are innately passionate about certain unique aspects of life. And people are blessed with bouts of clear and concise intuition that drive them toward distinct goals and aspirations within their jobs and their lives as a whole. (You are not excluded from this group.)

But people disregard these inspired thoughts, these high-potential opportunities, as “just another stupid idea.”


Perhaps they are concerned about a lack of support (perceived or otherwise) from others, or maybe they are afraid of what others will think of them if they fail. Whatever the reason, they convince themselves:

“This would be a great idea for someone who has more free time.”

“This would be a great idea for someone with a higher level of education.”

“This would be a great idea for someone who has more money.”

“Everybody thinks this idea is crazy. They must be right.”

No matter the justification, the response is the same. These inspired thoughts, these high-potential ideas, are stuffed deep into the drawer labeled “stupid,” and they’re never heard from again . . . or the waiting game begins.

People wait.

They wait for that elusive day when they’ll finally have enough time (guess what? — you never will), enough education (there is always more to know), enough money (no matter how much you make, someone will always have more). They wait until the children are grown (news flash: just because they’re grown, it doesn’t mean you’re rid of them) or until things settle down at work (they never will).

People wait until . . . until . . . until . . . They wait, and they wait, and they wait, until that fateful day when they wake up and realize that while they were sitting around, paying dues, earning their keep, waiting for that elusive “perfect time,” their entire life has passed them by.

Consciously living and breathing Gavin’s Law in every facet of my life and business has helped me realize the importance, the satisfaction, and the very real power that comes from starting something stupid. If you let it, Gavin’s Law will change your life, forever.

There is no greater time than now to start moving toward achieving your goals. Don’t wait. Start stuff.Live to start your stupid ideas, and start to live a life without regret — a life filled with meaning, freedom, happiness, fun, authenticity, and influence. After all, now is, in all actuality, the only time you’re truly guaranteed.

Life is too short not to start something stupid.

Call to Action

I’ve created an action guide to help you HEAL and HUSTLE, now. If you follow this 76-day challenge you’re life will be happier as you turn ideas into reality. Thousands have succeeded in the The 76 Day Challenge.

Grab your free action guide now to turn your life into living!

Watch This Raw 2 Minute Video I Made Today

We relive things on anniversaries. My son died 9 years ago today. Here’s my reflections on how to deal with difficult anniversaries. I’m on the North Shore of Oahu at Sunset Beach at sunset where we live. Share with someone who may find it helpful. This is a link to my post on Facebook.

Ready to Turn the Anniversary Effect into Something Positively Positive in Your Life?

I’ve created an action guide to help you HEAL and HUSTLE, now. If you follow this 76-day challenge you’re life will be happier as you turn ideas into reality. Thousands have succeeded in the The 76 Day Challenge.

Grab your free action guide now to turn your life into living!


  • Richie Norton

    Adventure Capitalist | Award-Winning Author | I Help Entrepreneurs Create Physical and Digital Products that Make Meaning and Money



    Richie Norton is the award-winning, bestselling author of the book The Power of Starting Something Stupid (in 10+ languages) and Résumés Are Dead & What to Do About It. In 2019, Richie was named one of the world’s top 100 business coaches by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith. He is an international speaker (including TEDx & Google Startup Grind) & serial entrepreneur.

    Richie is the founder of Global Consulting Circle, creating/scaling business models for venture-backed startups. He is the Co-Founder of Prouduct — helping entrepreneurs go from idea to market full service w/ global sourcing & end to end supply chain. Norton founded Edit.Today — a multinational video editing service for vloggers. Millions of entrepreneurial-minded people study Norton’s work & blended learning, modular educational programs (self-directed learning courses, masterminds, podcasts, articles, keynotes, interviews, books, mentoring, university lectures). Executives & celebrities alike seek out Richie to create new value-based products/experiences for their audiences.

    Richie is featured in Forbes, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, HuffPo, Inc., etc., etc., etc. The 2013 San Francisco Book Festival awarded The Power of Starting Something Stupid first in business & grand prize winner overall. At age 29, Pacific Business News recognized Richie as one of the Top Forty Under 40 “best & brightest young businessmen” in Hawaii.

    Richie founded a mentor capital org to help end poverty & establish the Willes Center for International Entrepreneurship — where he serves on the Mentor Venture Capital Board at BYU Hawaii. Richie is published in the Journal of Microfinance & is a ChangeAid Award winner for “outstanding accomplishment in international development, international relations, humanitarian aid and academic achievement.”

    Richie received his MBA from the world’s #1 ranked international business school, Thunderbird School of Global Management. Richie is happily married, has four boys and lives on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii.