Happiness Has Little to Do With What Happens to You. It Has Everything to Do With How You Choose to Respond
This post is part of The Awakened Heart Project
Week 3: Happiness Has Little to do With What Happens to You. It Has Everything to do With How You Choose to Respond
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”
Emotional Responses and Life Decisions
It’s inevitable: Life will throw you some curve balls. But YOU and YOU ALONE choose the emotional response you will have to these situations. No one makes you feel a certain way, or makes you react a certain way. That is all up to you.
For instance, you’re driving to work in morning traffic. It’s just like any other day, but as your try to merge and exit, a car cuts you off. As soon as he sees your blinker, he speed up, and prevents you from merging, causing you to slam on your brakes. Further, he also flicks you off and yells profanity at you out his window.
This is not how you wanted to start your day, but it’s what life has thrown at you. It’s not your fault, but how you choose to react will be.
Before we reflect on this, Let’s go one step further…
Two people get into a minor traffic accident. One emerges from his vehicle with a bat screaming obscenities and
threatening violence. The other calmly searches for a pen and paper to exchange insurance details. The first gets arrested for attempted assault and battery with a weapon, while Mr. Calm drives home with a small scratch on his car, kisses his wife and kids and carries on with his happy life. Mr. Psycho, rather than learning from the experience continues to take his anger out on the cops, the judge, the legal system, the government and the rest of the world for “singling him out”. Following his arrest and conviction, he continues to stumble from one drama to the next, never realizing that all of these experiences are self-created and in the middle of all of these catastrophes he is the common denominator. He is the cause, the creator, and the problem. Ironically, he’s also the solution should he choose to be. (Story adapted from “How to Control The Way You React)
Yikes! Do I have you thinking yet?!
Back to scenario 1: So what do you do? Do you start honking your horn, riding his bumper and screaming back? Do you cut off the next guy you see trying to merge? Are you grumpy all day taking your frustrations out on anyone who comes in contact with you?
It’s your choice to take that route, but before you do, answer these questions:
- What will you accomplish by getting frustrated and angry?
- How will reacting with frustration and resentment affect the rest of your day?
- How will your reaction affect your mood?
- Who might you hurt by taking out your frustrations with the driver on them instead?
- What type of negative avalanche of self-created catastrophes might you be starting?
- What if you just merged behind him, ignored him, and went on with you day forgetting him? Better yet, what if you thought, “How sad that this man woke up this angry that he feels the need to behave in such hostile ways”.
People Don’t Do Things To You
Sometimes, we find ourselves in a “victimizing” place. Things happen and we begin to place blame on others. We begin to think that people are out to get us, or people intentionally do things to hurt us. She did this to me! He made me feel this way! But did they?
People do things every day that they never intended to do at someone. People are far more unaware than you may think. People do things for themselves, and those who are affected are likely never taken into consideration. Sound selfish? Perhaps, but, you don’t have to think of it that way. We’re all on a quest to pursue our dreams and accomplish our goals, correct? We’re not on a quest to hurt others and ruin their lives (at least most of us), correct? We’re all just trying to make it in life, and trying to be happy. Yet, every decision we make has a ripple effect throughout the world. We don’t realize it, but it does.
Certain things appear so minor that we don’t think that anyone could be affected, so we never evaluate any consequences. Sometimes, it’s simple, like forgetting to return a phone call. We forgot because of x, y, and z, and don’t think too much about it. I’ll call them back tomorrow or later this week when I get a chance, we say to ourselves. We never meant anything malicious by it. But the person waiting for that phone call may be thinking, Why didn’t they call? Did I do something to upset them? They probably never intended to call me back. I bet they had something more important to do, with people better than me. Why do I always get left out? I can’t believe she did this! She knows how much I needed to talk to her. Man, this sucks. You know what, I never really liked her anyway. She’s always so selfish!
This is self-talk that is based on your ego and sense of self. It’s baseless, but you internalize the experience, making it an attack against your identity, and in defense, you attack against the person involved. You jump to the worst-case scenario, that someone forgetting immediately means that they did this to you, or on purpose. Because of this, you’re placing blame that this person made you feel forgotten and left out, and because of that, they’re selfish and not a good friend.
These types of scenarios unfold daily many different reasons. Sometimes they ruin friendships and cause great strife between individuals. But they don’t have to. Instead of always thinking what people do is a reflection of how they feel about you, KNOW that what people do is a reflection of who they are; it has nothing to do with you. Now, that doesn’t mean that if they didn’t call you back that they are selfish and a bad person. It means they’re human and life got in the way, as it sometimes does. Maybe they had a sick child at home. Maybe their car broke down on their way home from work. You just never know. To play devil advocate, maybe they really didn’t want to talk to you. This is still a reflection of who they are, because:
THEY are unable to tell you the truth.
THEY are unable to have the integrity to talk to you about what’s bothering them.
THEY would rather “play pretend” and evade conflict with you, than be truthful with themselves and the people in their life.
It’s not a reflection of who you are; it’s a reflection of who they are.
So don’t make the situation a place where you let your emotions take over and you feel hurt, or betrayed. You are in control. No one makes you feel this way, only you can do that.
Life is simply a series of choices, and only you can make those choices. We cannot control everything that life throws at us, but we can control our reactions. We cannot control what others do, but we can control how it makes us feel. If we have the power to control our thoughts, we can shape our world. We have the power to shape it into something harmful, sad, and grim, or we have the power to shape it something of beauty, friendship, compassion, patients, and love. When you realize that you alone shape your thoughts and feelings, you will find peace of mind, a greater sense of control, and more positive outcomes in your life.
How to Control Your Reactions and Take Control of Your Life
- Take a deep breath, and count to ten. When your physiological state is calm, it’s impossible to be angry or anxious.
- Increase Mindfulness: When you’re mindful, you’ll notice when your mind wanders down negativity road.
- When you feel someone has hurt you, reflect on where those feelings stem from. Did they hurt you? Or did your self-talk hurt you? Was it merely a misunderstanding?
- When you feel someone has hurt you, and you’re feeling upset, reflect on whether you’re really upset with them and their actions, or if their actions triggered something from your past (could be earlier in the day, or years back) causing the feelings that surfaced for you.
- Before you react, ask yourself what you hope to accomplish with your actions.
- Before you react, ask what the intentions of the person involved were. Communicate. Let he/she know how THEY’RE ACTIONS (not them as a person) made you feel. Communicate.
- Whenever you feel/think an experience is negative, sad, frustrating, etc., look for the silver lining. The glass is only half-full if you fill it (i.e. find the silver lining).
- Remember: The longer you live in a negative, self-defeating, avalanche-of-catastrophe life cycle, the longer you’ll live in a negative, self-defeating, avalanche-of-catastrophe life cycle. YOU control your actions and reactions.
- If you find that certain people do in fact do things to spite you, to hurt you, that they don’t care about you, or others, etc., take control of your life and kindly let them go.
Think about the above questions that were presented to you. Do you frequently stop to think about how you’re responding to situations and if your approach is self-defeating or positive? Is there an experience from your past you wish you would have responded to differently, perhaps after the emotional triggers had worn off?
*Many of the ideas for the awakened heart project come from the book “How to Be Happy, Dammit: A Cynic’s Guide to Spiritual Happiness” by Karen Salmansohn
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