Do you know what makes me mad?
Before I tell you what makes me mad, let me ask you, what angers you? What frustrates you? Disappoints you? Annoys you? These are important considerations because whenever we experience these negative emotions, we are unhappy. Since we want to be happy, we need to understand the cause of and solution to our unhappiness.
Here I am trying to write an article and the faucet is dripping again. Drip! Drip! How annoying! Went to the hardware store for supplies to fix the leaky faucet, but they were closed, even though I got there five minutes before closing time. That made me angry. Wouldn’t you know it, as I was driving back home, someone cut me off, forcing me to jam on the brakes. Now, I’m really annoyed! I’m having such a rotten day, I think I’ll call it quits and go to bed early. I go to brush my teeth and – yipe! – the tube of toothpaste was squeezed in the middle again. Why does my wife do that? Doesn’t she know it drives me crazy?
So, what makes me mad? Is it a dripping faucet, a store closing too early, a reckless driver, or a “disobedient” wife? No, it is none of these things. You see, no person or event can make us unhappy. What is responsible for our misery? It is our childish demands and unreasonable expectations.
When I was an infant and feeling uncomfortable, all I had to do was scream and someone would come, change my diapers, and make me feel good again. If I got hungry, I would scream again, and in a few moments, I would be fed. When I was helpless, it was acceptable for me to be demanding. But now I’m an adult. I’m responsible for my own life. I cannot expect the world to behave exactly the way I would like it to. I cannot control the events or people I encounter. I can only control myself.
Suppose I made up my mind to be unhappy every time someone did not behave as I wished; imagine if I decided to be miserable every time circumstances were not as I wanted them to be. Wouldn’t that be silly? Of course it would! Yet, that’s what most of us do! We blame people or events for MAKING us unhappy. In truth, unhappiness is a choice we make. For we tell ourselves, unless so-and-so does what I want or unless this-or-that happens I CANNOT be happy. So what do we do when life fails to meet our demands or expectations? We complain, get angry, experience resentment, and wallow in misery. Not very smart, is it?
Now that we know the cause of our self-induced misery, what is the cure? It’s quite simple. All we have to do is change our demands and expectations to preferences. No, I don’t demand that my wife stop squeezing the tube of toothpaste in the middle, but I prefer that she wouldn’t. However, she does so anyway. Since I can’t change her, I accept her idiosyncrasy and choose to reflect on all of her good habits and all of my bad habits. When I do so, it becomes clear to me that I’m lucky she is not complaining about my behavior!
The next time you catch yourself being demanding, ask myself, “Do I really want to replace happiness with anger? How would the situation change if I were to express love and understanding instead of anger?” If you’re experiencing resentment, it’s time to stop judging others. Recognize humans are imperfect and often act cruelly because of the pain they are in. Instead of being judgmental, be understanding. Instead of being angry, be compassionate. Release your love with forgiveness.
Although changing demands and expectations into preferences is the most important step you can take to increase happiness, the remaining paragraphs offer a few more tips.
Cut out irrational thinking. It is irrational to believe “I cannot be happy unless the world treats me as I want to be treated.” It is irrational because you can accept whatever is out of your control, whether you like it or not. In fact, it can become an exciting challenge to find the hidden opportunity in what first appeared to be a terrible experience. Here are some more irrational beliefs, “I cannot be happy unless I am experiencing pleasure. I cannot be happy unless I am perfect. I cannot be happy unless EVERYONE loves me and treats me fairly. I cannot be happy as long as there are possible threats, such as getting cancer, drinking contaminated water, or getting mugged.”
Be willing to be happy, for as Hugh Prather explains in How to Live in the World and Still be Happy, “Happiness is easy. It is letting go of unhappiness that is hard. We are willing to give up everything but our misery. Although it is perhaps unconscious for many, we carry with us the sabotaging belief that we do not deserve to be happy. There is great fear that when we take time to be happy we are not guarding our own interests and certainly not doing all we could for the world. If we need a justification for feeling happy, we might ask ourselves what is the alternative, and what do we believe this other feeling will do to relieve the world’s misery. My belief is that we will not lessen anguish by maintaining the very state of mind we wish to see others released from.”
Drop self-pity, for it’s self-inflicting misery. Stop trying to be a martyr. You don’t become a hero by suffering (being miserable). You become heroic by remaining cheerful even when you’re in pain.
Don’t exaggerate. When a problem exists, such as loss of a job, don’t blow it out of proportion or else you’ll become immobilized with fear. Instead, use the discomfort to motivate you into action. Remain cheerful to lessen the negative effects on you and those you interact with.
Now, despite what I’ve written, if you still insist on being miserable, here are some tips you can follow to achieve your goal:
1. Worry about the future.
2. Regret the past.
3. Look for things that will “make” you upset.
4. Be pessimistic and focus on negative thoughts.
5. Eliminate your sense of humor.
6. Never apologize or forgive anyone.
7. For their own good, try to change the “bad habits” of others.
8. Hang out with negative people and avoid happy people.
9. Criticize others; it’s for their own good.
10. Remember, compassion is for wimps, and ruthlessness is a sign of strength.