Today is a beautiful day in the Napa valley. The sun is out, the rain is over, the air is clean, and we are breaking 70 degrees. I am in short sleeves for the first time in weeks. It really is a perfect Northern California January day. Even during cold spells, which we have had a lot of lately, I always consider myself lucky to live here. So I was quite surprised to hear people make themselves miserable today. Perhaps I should explain.
During lunch I ran an errand up to my HMO pharmacy to pick up a couple of prescriptions. Nothing major, just a regular thing for me. I had re-ordered them online, and had gotten a call that they were ready so it seemed like a good idea to pick them up. When I got there, after waiting in line to get to the counter, I found out that only one of the prescriptions had been filled. No particular reason–it just didn’t get done. The woman helping me was apologetic and asked if I would like to wait if they could rush it. Although it was inconvenient, it was just one of those things so I took a seat to wait for my name–again.
I was sitting near the entrance to the pharmacy, so I couldn’t help but hear people as they queued up behind my chair. As I sat, I was amazed at the reaction as people entered the pharmacy on a Friday afternoon. The line was actually not too long, maybe ten people at a time. But as each person came to pick up their prescription it seemed as though they were surprised that anyone else needed to do the same thing that they did. I heard more than one expletive, and several conversations about how poorly the pharmacy was run. As these people talked, they seemed to feed on the negative energy, making the wait balloon into one of worst things that could possibly be happening in their lives. The rising stress levels in the line were almost palpable.
Now, I have to say that people are not usually at their best when in a pharmacy. They are probably there because they are ill and less than their best. However, in today’s world standing in line to buy anything is not really a surprise. And getting angry about having to do it is neither productive nor healthy. I couldn’t help but think that this was a classic example of choice and picking your battles.
When we are faced with situations that are unpleasant we have to make a decision. Can we do something about it, or is the situation out of our control? And if it is out of our control, how do we choose to react to it? These are fundamental questions but our world moves at warp speed these days and we don’t always have time to think about them. The result is a lot of frustration and unnecessary stress.
In this example, the situation is out of our control but we do have a choice in our reaction. We can wait or we can come back later. Both are probably inconvenient, but getting angry about the inconvenience will only make us feel worse. Perhaps a better way of dealing with the situation is to make a choice and take responsibility for it. Wait or come back–our choice. Getting angry and blaming the pharmacy, or worse the person behind the counter, will not change anything. It will only raise blood pressure and most likely put a damper on the rest of the afternoon. And that doesn’t seem like the best choice to me.
I’m not naive. I know people are busy, and most are over-scheduled. But letting situations over which you have no control upset you will do nothing but stress you out unnecessarily. I know this because I used to be the first to stress out if I had to wait for something. I was busy, tired, and certainly didn’t have time to stand around and wait–I had a schedule to keep. That was several years ago in my corporate life.
Flash forward to now. I’m still busy (although I sleep better these days so I’m not really tired much), and don’t really have time to wait around for something. I still have a schedule. But I have a different perspective now. Indignation caused by inconvenience does no one any good. I know that I can’t control everything and I take responsibility for my reactions. By doing so, I still get my prescriptions, although it took a bit longer than expected. The world did not end because I had to wait. I also get a beautiful sunny afternoon, smiling conversations with people behind the counter, and the ability to let the inconvenience go and get on with my day. Because of it I have a lot more energy, a lot less stress, and a lot more enjoyment of my day.
Seems like the better choice to me.
How do you deal with inconvenience? Do you let it stress you out or does your reaction let you enjoy your day?
It is one of the founding principles of the United States. We are entitled to the pursuit of happiness. It is what we are put on this earth to do. And if it is a right, it should be a pretty easy thing to do, right? Define happiness, get set, pursue, achieve. Simple.
So why do so many people in today’s society feel like they are on a never-ending chase to find that elusive state? And we all know that when we don’t seem to be able to achieve a goal, we find frustration and stress instead. The harder we try to be happy, the harder it is to be happy. Just when we figure out what will get us there, someone moves the finish line. What we thought would be the end of the race turns out to be only another hurdle.
Finding happiness is important. Why? Because on a basic level, we equate happiness with well-being. If we are to live a full and optimal life, we need to be happy. We need to enjoy life and find the things that contribute to our happiness. We need to be active in pursing happiness.
There is only one little fundamental flaw in this theory. Most of us are pursing the wrong things. Somewhere in our personal development, we decided what was important to each of us. Subconsciously we designed a matrix that determined how we could be happy and what would be necessary to achieve it. Sometimes we modeled that on early environmental factors, such as a stable home life. Sometimes the opposite is true. There was no stable home life and there was unhappiness. Therefore, a stable home would be a requirement for happiness.
Many people equate financial success with happiness. After all, we are bombarded with media images of wealthy, successful people all the time–and they certainly look happy. Wealthy people don’t worry about money, so they have to be happy. The goal becomes to have enough money to not have to worry about it ( which in itself is not possible, but that’s a different subject). Of course, the problem here is deciding when enough is enough. The reality is that when you allow money to determine happiness, you will almost always feel that there is never enough. Kind of a self-defeating cycle.
The bad news for those of us who are goal-oriented, Type-A driven personalities, is that we should stop the pursuit. It is one of the hardest things to do–especially when we find value in action–but we have to stop taking the easy way out.
Here’s the issue. It is much easier to assign responsibility to external factors as a basis for creating happiness. We pursue these conditions, or goals, in hopes that they will make us happy. A good relationship, a better job, a bigger house. It seems that we have been conditioned to believe that things, or conditions, will make us happy. It is much more difficult, and more frightening, to accept responsibility for our own happiness.
The truth is that each of us has the ability to be happy at any given time. If you think about a time when you considered yourself happy, you probably weren’t actually thinking about being happy. You simply were. You were in the moment, and that moment was all that mattered. The problem is that most of us don’t realize those moments matter.
There was a time I was walking my dogs (I have four, so walking them is no easy feat), and in spite of the tugging on the leashes or whatever problems, I was incredibly happy. There was nothing special about the day but for some reason I was actually aware of what I was doing, not just performing a task on autopilot. I was completely in moment and it was a very peaceful, happy experience. In the midst of a not-so-particularly great day I was happy. When I stopped looking for it, I discovered happiness was there if I wanted it.
This is not to say that pursuing goals is a bad thing. Far from it. However, using the completion of a goal as a benchmark for happiness is an exercise in futility. There will always be another goal, so if you attach your ideal of happiness to attaining a goal, you will set yourself up for an endless search. And that search only leads to stress and dissatisfaction. So create goals, but create them for the sake improving your situation, not for the expectation of how that achievement will make you feel. How you feel about any situation at any time is completely up to you. Enjoying a sense of satisfaction due to an achievement is not the same as expecting an achievement to satisfy you. A subtle difference, but an important one.
We do have the right to be happy and to thrive to the best of our abilities in whatever environment we find ourselves. Once we accept that we don’t have to search for happiness–that happiness can already be an integral part of our world if we just allow it– interesting things happen. Stress levels drop, we have more energy to put toward positive pursuits,we find a sense of peace, and our health can actually improve. Now that certainly seems like something worth pursuing.
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