How to be Happy When You're Sad
Why's Everyone Angry?
I must confess, I can’t consider myself an expert on anger because I’m rarely angry.
When I am angry, it’s about injustice, corruption and poor delivery service from the New York Times - hey, a girl needs to be connected to the world!
After observing anger, expressed in lots of ways, over lots of issues, I don’t see how it ever moves a person or situation forward in a positive way. If anger had found its way into my dealings with adversity, it would have made things worse. I believe anger is related to happiness – knowing how to recognize and avoid anger allows me to keep my focus on my goal: to be happy.
Let’s break this down.
Bitterness, anger's brooding cousin, is a feeling of being treated unfairly.
Do I think my life has been filled with bad luck? Do I view this as unfair? Sure I do. I’m human. Am I frustrated about events that are out of my control as well as events I’ve worked hard to control and still haven’t managed to steer my way? Guilty, again. Still, bitterness wouldn’t have helped. Bitter people seem stuck in their world of misfortune. Sometimes that misfortune happened long ago, yet they cling to it, accepting their circumstance as fate without trying to move past it. They won’t allow themselves to see a possibility of something bright. They can’t see the forest for the trees. And they never appear to be happy.
I’ve watched bitter people lash out at those they believe have a better lot in life. And that better life most often is not related to the bitter person’s misfortune. Who benefits from that? No one!
What a great segue to resentment, anger’s seething cousin.
I’m happy for those who have lives with few bumps in the road. It’s given me great joy to celebrate all the wonderful milestones achieved by my family and friends.
Their good fortune is mutually exclusive from my misfortune. It’s apples and oranges.
I’m confounded by people who resent those who’ve had it better. We all have the ability to try, in a positive way, to change our fortunes. Sometimes we try in earnest, but still remain in an unfortunate place. When that’s happened to me, rather than resent my peers, I do two things:
I continue to move forward in the same direction or choose another direction to attain what I’m looking for, be it personal or professional. This choice is based on the reality that we don’t know who or what’s around the corner. The future holds infinite possibilities!
The second thing I do is welcome and create opportunities for moments of happiness, while I’m working on the bigger picture. One thing I don’t do is waste my time resenting the prosperity of others.
Now, I suppose some of you may say you resent friends who have succeeded by somehow wronging you, have held you back or aren’t sympathetic to your misfortune. While I haven’t had a friend be cruel or hold me back from something positive, I have had a few friends that didn’t recognize my plight or their rhetoric wasn’t helpful to me. In those circumstances I had to decide if it was a blip in our friendship (and they were unaware of the hurt) or if it was a friendship worth keeping. You have to determine what friendships are worth holding on to. For me it’s always become apparent over time.
I’ve also watched resentment play out in the workplace.
Sometimes it seems obvious who will get the next promotion. Then, out of nowhere, a coworker who wasn’t “next in line” is promoted. I’ve seen anger aimed at the employee who was promoted rather than at the decision makers. In Chapter 2, I spoke of a time when a promotion had been promised to me but given to someone else. I was extremely upset at the management; however, I was happy for the guy who was promoted. He didn’t make the decision. If I was angry with him, how would that change my life? Well, beyond the apparent awkwardness each time I passed him in the hall.
And finally let’s address anger.
What’s mystifying to me is the anger I witness over little things: traffic jams, late trains, a distracted cashier, a colleague’s mistake. In these situations I think about whether the event will affect my life beyond the next hour or so. If not, it’s very easy to move on. After that I think about three things:
Empathize: When someone makes a mistake, I remind myself of my past blunders. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s never made a mistake.
Take Responsibility: I think about what I could have done to prevent the aggravating occurrence - if I left earlier for work, if I gave a clearer explanation of a task to a coworker.
Reality Check: Lastly, I assess the worst case scenario of the situation. Remember, we’re talking about small events. Perhaps I’ll be late for work or dinner with a friend. If you’re a regular on time person, which I am, it won’t be a problem. A project at work will take a bit longer. When we think of all the time wasted by a variety of things at the workplace, why would one mistake that causes a small delay be the event we choose to find upsetting?
As for serious situations - your friend wronged you, your boss threw you under the bus, actions by your family caused a terrible situation, a co-op board turned you down, your divorce settlement wasn’t what you expected. My ‘go to’ is sadness rather than anger. Many get angry. Whatever your 'go to' – the issue is knowing how to handle your reaction.
Quick reminder - it's important to understand and acknowledge that everyone’s life and community is different. I can only tell you what's worked for me. I'm not a therapist or a healthcare provider, but I probably have a lot in common with you if you're reading this. If what I say resonates, put it in your mix of ideas and discuss it with the people you trust to help you make decisions.
Although each situation is different, my reactions take the same route. I assess the benefit of discussing the situation with the person or people who upset me. Then I sleep on it and think about it again. I rarely act impulsively. Reacting immediately seldom ends well—hit the pause button.
I also don’t burn bridges. While there may be some momentary pleasure from telling off someone who’s wronged you, that outburst is likely to haunt you. That friend or colleague or manager will be caught off guard and probably won't react the way you'd hoped; don't expect your diatribe to spark an epiphany. At best you'll get a blank stare in response, and the worst case scenario is backlash. At some point in the future you'll find yourself at a disadvantage, in a very awkward situation that could have been avoided.
I don’t wish any harm to those who have been unkind to me. I simply don’t think about them. I want to be happy. Why waste my time on someone I don’t care about, when I could be enjoying myself.
The next chapter will be about people I do care about, my friends! Stay tuned.