my grandmother divorced from her husband when she was in her 50’s. she once told me that for years after the divorce, she harbored great bitterness and resentment towards him, that she often imagined what she would say to him if she bumped into him around town, or how she would have handled various events in their marriage if she could only go back in time. she said that eventually, though, she realized that all the negative feelings she kept revisiting never had any impact on him, but they did have a huge impact on her. she realized that she was making herself miserable by continuing to dwell on negative things that she couldn’t change or didn’t intend to follow through with.
once she had this epiphany, she simply stopped giving it any thought. after that, she felt much better.
similarly, a long time ago, my wife jenn said to me, “choose happiness.” i was super annoyed when she first said it because it sounds like something a yoga hipster woman would say, but the more i thought about it, the more i liked it. what “choose happiness” means is, when you are driving home at a respectable 10 km/h over the speed limit and you come up behind some son of a bitch who is putting along just under the speed limit, you have a choice. you can choose to fume and gripe out loud, maybe swerve slightly into the oncoming lane as if to pass the slow driver, perhaps lay on the horn, and get right worked up about this minor inconvenience — or you can realize that you actually aren’t in a big rush for any justifiable reason so you may as well take a deep breath, slow down, and relax.
for whatever reason, we give ourselves a lot of leeway when it comes to embracing anger and frustration. we allow ourselves to stew over tiny, insignificant things and make ourselves miserable. i see people do it all the time. i do it all the time myself (except i usually like to do it). but we have the ability to become more self aware, notice when we repeat negative patterns, and work to break those patterns. i actually frequently think “choose happiness” to myself now as a mantra when i want to snap myself out of yet another loop of rage. i even say it to jenn occasionally, which she absolutely fucking hates.
i’m writing about this now because i was bothered by something else when i got stuck behind an insanely slow driver. i had to remind myself that the slow driver wasn’t what was actually bothering me, and letting myself get worked up about them would only make me even more unhappy. so i relaxed and slowed down and felt better for it.
it’s nice when this kind of stuff actually works. which is only maybe 50% of the time, but that’s still way better than nothing. i welcome any mitigation of my misery with open arms.