By Mike Rice
Admit it. We’ve all done it a few times in our lives. It happens on airplanes, in grocery stores, parks, church, or any other public places. We experience things outside ourselves that leads to feeling frustrated or angry because “some people’s children,” or someone, or some thing is behaving in ways in which we disapprove. We begin to think such things as, “These kids need to be taught how to act in public,” or “Boy, Some people’s children . . .,” or “A good swat on their tails would put an end to this kind of behavior.”
When our happiness needs are being disrupted, it’s easy to react in negative ways to attempt to ease the frustration. You may choose to criticize, blame, complain, nag, threaten or even punish those whom you perceive as the disrupters of your happiness. Ironically, the thoughts and behaviors that are chosen often cause more unhappiness than they do to resolve it.
You are riding a bus and you don’t like riding busses. You are only doing so because your car broke down and is in the shop being repaired. So already, you are not all that happy because in your happy world, your car is running well and has no mechanical problems. You are also unhappy because the bus has to make several stops to let passengers on and off which makes the bus trip seem to be even more unpleasant.
On one of the stops, a man and his two young sons board the bus. You are reading a newspaper to take your mind off of your unhappiness and to focus on other things. But even the newspaper articles are stories of things that conflict with your happiness ideals. Perceiving yourself as in control of your emotions, you do your best to stuff your negative emotions so that others won’t notice them.
The two boys who recently boarded the bus are now running up and down the aisle of the bus, playing tag and letting out several high-pitched sounds that are unpleasant to you and disrupting your concentration and ability to read your paper. You begin to think to yourself how unruly these kids are and how poorly they have been raised to behave this way in public. You glance over to the father who appears to not even be in touch with his surroundings. He is not only ignoring his children and their behavior, he is just staring out the window at nothing in particular. And now your values kick into another gear of confirming just how poor a parent this man is and why these kids are behaving so poorly. Now there are several people around you who are behaving in ways in which you disapprove. You begin to feel a knot in your stomach. You clench you teeth. Your blood pressure rises. You feel achy. Your anger intensifies.
Now you don’t care if anyone notices your looks of displeasure or not. In fact, you hope the father of the two boys will notice your expressions of unhappiness and take measures to get these kids to behave the way you want them to behave. But the father is too self-absorbed to notice your unhappiness much less the behavior of his sons. He simply stares out the window as if in a daze. Meanwhile, the two boys continue to play and yell while chasing each other up and down the aisle of the bus.
You see the father and the boys as the cause of your unhappiness even though you were unhappy before they even boarded the bus. But since there is nothing you can do about having to ride the bus, you begin to think that you can say or do something to the boys and/or the father to get them to behave the way you want them to behave. You have held off as long as you can with only the information you see before you that you have recognized as being of the cause of your personal happiness.
Enough is enough! You yell at the boys, “Sit down and be still! Quit running up and down this aisle and disrupting everyone!” And to the father, “Can’t you control these kids? Some people should never have children because they don’t know how to raise them!”
The father looks stunned. It appears you just shook him out of a coma. He replies, “I apologize. I’m sorry for how my kids are behaving. Boys? Come here. Sit down and be quiet.” And to you he once again apologizes: “We’re all a little bit lost in our thoughts right now. We just got on the bus back there at the hospital. My wife . . . their mother, just died of cancer a few minutes ago and we are not dealing with it too well right now.”
So what are your thoughts now? Do you still want to choose to criticize? Do you still want to complain and blame them for your unhappiness?
This story is an example of how one chooses to think and behave on limited information and self-centered thoughts. One cannot behave without a thought that leads to an emotion that leads to the choice of the behavior. Once you change your thoughts, you will change your emotions and your behavior.
At the beginning of this story, you were controlling your behavior as best you could at the time. But that didn’t work so well so you began to behave based on your thoughts and lashed out at the source you perceived as the cause of your unhappiness. Once you got more information of what was happening in their world and not in yours, you suddenly changed your thoughts and behavior and may even felt like a jerk. So now who is apologizing?
It’s not always about you. Other people have their own unhappiness to deal with. Just remember: When you find yourself unhappy because of the behavior of others, you can only control yourself. And there will always be someone else who has more to be unhappy about than you.
The Next Time You Are Unhappy
Change what you want and/or change how you behave when you don’t get what you want. There are no other effective ways.