Posted by: Leigh Reynolds | April 18, 2011

Shiney, Happy People

I had lunch with an old friend a while ago and we had the greatest conversation. I could have stayed and talked to her for hours. Though I recall what a great time we had, I can’t recall all the things we talked about. I do remember however, the last thing we were discussing as she dropped me off at my office and I reluctantly headed back to work…
She had recently read about this theory, a study some group or another had conducted, wherein the happiest people were those that did not attribute someone else bad behavior to anything having to do with them… Example, someone is rude to you in the store. Most people angrily react “what the heck did I do to you, jerk?!” – at least in their head. There is an assumption that the rude person is hateful in response to something I did, or said, or that they think  about me. The happy people in the study reacted in a different way; they assumed the problem had nothing to do with them – “aw, I guess that person is having a rough day.” You may never know if the rude individual was really mad at you, or was just having a terrible day and the awful behavior had nothing whatsoever to do with anything you said or did. Either way, it didn’t matter. The assumption from the happier folk was always that the issue was with the other person and not a reflection on themselves. The scholars have given this ‘condition’ a name I can’t recall, but I have been pondering it since that lunch.

On the one hand, it would seem to drastically reduce one’s angst and frustration, and it seems a fine way to live one’s life. On the other, it does seem to imply that you’d never take ownership of your own actions. Maybe I did something that merited the frustration from the other person and I should be more aware. Maybe I’d be real happy if I never thought it was something I did; but then when it was something I did, what a jerk I’d be for never owning my part in it. I’d be happy, but at someone else expense.

It’s an interesting way to look at things, but it’s like anything… you have to keep it in balance.

Every day I mess something up. Maybe I am short-fused with my kids because I am exhausted, having gotten no sleep last night. I am curt with someone at work, because a million things went wrong this morning, topped off with a flat tire on the drive in. I make a snap judgement towards someone at church because I was thrown under the bus at the office by a co-worker. Or maybe I am not a good listener for a friend in need because I just found out my dad has cancer.

On my worst days, I am at my worst because something happened to wear me down and make it hard for me to be my best. When the house is quiet and I can finally catch up with myself, I often feel a little ashamed for how I paid my anger or frustration forward, becoming part of the reason for someone elses. As I lay my head to my pillow, I often look back on my day and say a small prayer asking for forgiveness and for resolve to make tomorrow better.

If I can know this about myself, why can’t I know it about others? Maybe that co-worker wasn’t being dictatorial in their email, they are just having a really rough and harried day (that has nothing to do with me) and they need to get something off their plate. Maybe that friend didn’t donate to my charity event, not because they don’t care, but because they are really struggling financially and her husband is about to lose his job. Maybe that person I volunteer with didn’t mean to leave me out of a decision I should have been a part of because they don’t value me, but they recently received a troubling medical diagnosis and they are distracted.

The trouble comes when we make assumptions or we try own something that isn’t ours. When we forget that other people have stuff to deal with too. We are each a sum of our parts and a compilation of the experiences we go through along the way – some good, some bad.

I’d like to get worked up less, to forgive more, to relax sometimes and cut someone else some slack. I’d be willing to guess that I’d fall in to that “happier person” category my friend was telling me about if I did. I can’t control how anyone else reacts, but I can control how I respond to others. I am working on owning what’s mine and letting go of the rest.

I am confident that I’ll pray that prayer of forgiveness and resolve many more times in my life, but I hope I’ll need it with less frequency as time goes by.

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