How to Be Happier
a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something.
Last week I was pulling into the underground parking lot where I live, and as I got to the second gate, I pulled up behind a red Mustang. The car was spotless and sparkling and the motor made that low rumbling sound characteristic of muscle cars. The male driver was sitting in the car in front of the gate, which was still closed. I waited for what felt like an eternity (but was probably about 15-20 seconds) and decided to drive around him in case he was waiting for someone and not yet ready to go into the resident parking area. I hadn’t quite pulled up halfway next to his car when he stuck his head out of the window, turned towards me and with a bright red face and gesticulating hand unleashed an impressive stream of invective.
I was taken aback. From what I could tell, I hadn’t done anything wrong, and this man was furious, with a capital F. Confounded, I pulled back in behind him and waited for him to finally open and drive through the gate. Once through, he stopped his car so I was not able to follow him in. The gate closed, I opened it with my remote, but he still wouldn’t budge. We completed this dance three times until he finally drove away.
I was ready to confront him at the elevator bank. I had been so completely triggered by this man’s behaviour that I, too, was seeing red now. I wanted to stand face-to-face with him and see what he had to say for himself. My strategy was to be friendly, so he would feel bad, guilty and embarrassed. I wanted him to repent, atone and pay for the way he had treated me. He had to be punished! This was my perspective, and a pattern that often comes up for me when I feel I’ve been wronged. Ultimately I decided not to confront him because it was late at night, there weren’t any other people around, and he was extremely angry. It seemed safer to just get out of there.
Fast forward a week or so and I was still ruminating over the incident. I still wanted Mr. Mustang to be punished. He had to know what he’d done wrong and suffer for it! I developed all sorts of revenge fantasies, including egging his car, keying his car and leaving threatening notes. I was quite sure that I would follow through on one of them.
And then I went on vacation.
While on holiday I realized how unhappy and angry I’d been feeling about the incident. By needing to be right, I'd been stressing myself out, and it had been me who had been suffering, not Mr. Mustang. What happened didn’t happen to me, it was just something that happened, yet I had decided that I needed to take the role of enforcer. That man offered me his anger, and I accepted it. Once accepted, it became my burden.
Had I not accepted his anger, I would have remembered that his reaction was not about me, it was about something that was going on in his life. Perhaps he was having a bad day, or maybe he is a deeply unhappy person. This shift in thinking would have allowed me to have compassion for him and my need to punish him would not have been triggered. Thankfully, this perspective shift came to me during my vacation, before I took matters into my own hands. Today I no longer feel angry with Mr. Mustang. I feel compassion and curiosity. And what a relief that is! Letting go of anger clears so much wasted headspace, and creates much more time, energy and opportunity for happiness.
This story has been an example of Step 2 of my three-ingredient recipe for happiness:
1. Accept your life as it is right now.
2. Shift the perspectives that are holding you back.
3. Change your experience of life.
I could say so much more about perspective, but in the interest of keeping this article to a reasonable length, I'd like to share just a few key points about perspective:
Perspective plays possibly the biggest role in determining whether or not you are going to be happy.
Two people may live extremely similar lives yet one is unhappy about his circumstances while the other thinks he has a great life. How does this happen? It’s about their perspective. Their experiences of life depend on their expectations, level of gratitude, amount of empathy for others, values, and feelings of entitlement or lack thereof.
You can see yourself as a victim or you can see yourself as the hero. It’s completely up to you.
Great, but how do you shift your perspective? One step at a time, one thought at a time. Become aware of which of your attitudes are hurting you, notice when it happens, and then challenge yourself to view the situation from a different perspective. Try looking at life through a different set of lenses.
Stay tuned for Step 3 coming next week. In the meantime I’d like to ask you:
How can you adjust your perspective to create more happiness in your life?
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