There’s this meme that keeps popping up on Facebook that speaks to me every time I see it.
I will admit that I have yet to make it through a full 24 hours without complaining about something, but things like this are always a powerful reminder; we like to complain about a lot of things. All our first-world problems like the internet being down, some “idiot” who dares to drive the speed limit, or having to wait for just about anything, feel so big in the moment.
In the spirit of my summer of living intentionally, I’m going do my best to adjust my attitude. As a life-skill, I think having a positive attitude is just as important as natural talent and education. Just think of where women like Malala Yousafzai, Dara Torres, and Robin Roberts would be if they hadn’t kept their positive attitudes.
Of course, an attitude adjustment is easier said than done. Our responses to people, places, and situations have been ingrained in our minds. We don’t even think, we just react. That guy that cut us off in traffic? He must be a jerk. The store is out of your favorite snack? How hard is it to keep food on the shelves, people?! The movie you’ve been waiting weeks to see isn’t playing anymore? Well, that’s just a big cosmic F.U.
Except none of that might be true. The movie you wanted to see will come out on video – movies don’t just disappear! The store is not conspiring against you to prevent you from getting your Pop Chips, and that guy? Well, he might actually be a jerk (there are jerks out there, after all), but that doesn’t have to be your problem.
Here are some quick, easy, no therapist needed, alternatives to complaining:
Smile. Even when you want to scream. There’s sort of a fake-it-’til-you-make-it idea behind this that really does work.
Breathe. Take a long, slow, deep breath. It interrupts your natural response, which is to get upset.
Count to 10. Or 50. Again, it takes the immediacy out of the situation.
Repeat a mantra. “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” is a good one, especially when the thing that’s annoying you is someone else’s child(ren).
Look for the good. I use this when I get annoyed at Mr. O for not doing something the way I would do it. Before I get crabby and complain about it I think of all the things he does for our family. Suddenly not stacking the dishwasher right doesn’t seem like such a big deal.
Don’t take it personally. Most of the time people go about their days thinking of themselves, not you. So if someone grabs the last pizza roll at a party it’s probably not a vast conspiracy and subtle way of telling you you’re fat. They probably just wanted a pizza roll.
Remember your audience. Having a child has made me much more aware of my reactions to things. Knowing Miss O’s little eyes are watching what I do and using it as her example helps me stay cool in tough situations.
Are these suggestions fool-proof? Of course not. For one thing, it’s sometime perfectly acceptable to get annoyed and complain. All the smiling, breathing, and counting in the world can’t stop people from being upset. The idea is to slow down, assess the situation, and react with thought and care as opposed to gut instinct.
Once you’re able to think rationally you can see that the girl at Dunkin Donuts didn’t intentionally give you the smallest doughnut, and your boss hasn’t been spelling your name wrong for the last 8 years on purpose. You can also decide what’s worth mentioning and what you should just let go. Most of the time I think you’ll find these “tragedies” aren’t really that big of a deal.
Take some time to think before you react and it will be a lot easier to keep up your positive attitude.