I have repeated this quote more than once here on my blog:
"Change your thoughts and you change your world." -Norman Vincent Peale
Here is another quote, courtesy of Bill, the amazingly nice guy who works at the post office:
"Happiness is a choice."
Thank you Bill. I was reminded of both of these today while going through a situation that could have easily gone two different ways. I could have ended up feeling angry, annoyed, upset and frustrated, or, I could have found myself feeling cheerful, grateful, content, and peaceful.
I surprised myself and went for the latter. Here's what happened:
Without going into too much detail I will say that I was disrespected for the umpteenth time where I volunteer. My supervisor did something, which she does often, which showed me again her complete and utter disregard for my time, my going above and beyond what's expected, and for all that I have done (without compensation) over the past 5 years there.
(I should say here that I am not the only volunteer who feels this way. Because this person is so wrapped up in her own issues and is mentally unable to be considerate of other people's time and lives, I was fully aware that what happened was not a deliberate act of malice toward me. It was just a result of her usual carelessness and overall indifference for anyone else's needs or feelings.)
At this moment, when this thing happened yet again, I realized that I had a choice in how I was going to handle it. I could give in to the feelings of anger, disappointment, annoyance, and disrespect that were bubbling up in my stomach, OR, I could make the choice to consciously change my mind about the situation and turn those knee jerk reactions into contentment, calm, acceptance, and peace.
I considered my situation and the choices I had (basically to stick around and do my job or stomp off in a huff) and I thought about what I wanted to fill my body with and what I would be projecting to the world when I did that. I got out of my head and took a moment to actually look around and take in the reality of my surroundings. When I did that it was like a switch got flipped inside of myself. I flipped the switch to "choose happiness" and the ire that had been foaming inside me settled down into serenity. While couldn't change the circumstances, I realized that I could accept them, and then move forward into what would be the best and healthiest scenario for me.
To clarify, I wasn't being physically or emotionally harmed, I wasn't just accepting abuse or prejudice - that I would not do. But I realized that I was experiencing a first world problem* and the only person hurting me at that moment was myself. My supervisor had done her thing, she was over it and had moved on, so if I chose to spend the next few hours simmering in my own frustration, I had no one to blame but myself. So I stuck around and did my job and every time I saw her I reminded myself that I could only control my own actions and no one else's.
Amazingly, right before I left she apologized for her actions, at which point I made another choice. Honestly, I was so fed up that I wanted to chew her out and call out every single infraction from the past few years, ending with this final frustrating straw. But instead I graciously accepted her apology and went on my way. I left the place feeling peaceful and a little proud of how I handled the whole situation. What happened next astounded me.
As composed as I was feeling emotionally, physically this whole internal dissonance was wreaking having with my stomach. Because I had spent a good hour with all of the negative stuff building up inside me, I was feeling a bit nauseous and off-kilter constitutionally. Coca-cola usually tends to settle my uneasy gut so even though I've been doing limited carbs and sugar lately, I went in search of a Coke. On my way I passed by Panera and remembered that I still had my free birthday pastry to claim if it hadn't expired yet. So I went in, handed the cashier my card, and to my delight she told me that not only was my free birthday treat still on there, but it was also free bagel month and I was entitled to a free bagel as well.
Needless to say, after my recently exhausting experience I was ecstatic. I said something like, "Who-hooo! This is great! You just made my day!" The cashier must have picked up on my palpable joy because after I picked out my 2 carb-laden snacks she held out an empty cup and said, "Here, have a drink. It's on me."
I was stunned. Seriously. I wanted a soda to help make myself feel better and here she was handing me free one. I mean, WOW! I felt like the universe was giving a me high five for handling the situation gracefully and healthily, rather than in my old way, by which I would still be angry and upset about it several hours later and carrying around huge amounts of negativity and indignation.
Did my supervisor behave inappropriately and disrespectfully? Absolutely. Did I have every right to be angry and annoyed? I believe the answer to that is a resounding "yes." But I was not being purposely or personally victimized or mistreated. I was merely on the receiving end of her typical forgetfulness and inconsiderate attitude toward others. She messed up yet again, it affected me yet again, but ultimately it was my choice to let someone else's impudence and ineptitude interfere with the joy and peace that I try to cultivate in my life. Or not.
We have these choices every moment of every day. Any time we have to deal with an annoying or less-than-ideal situation we get to make the choice of how we're going to handle it. And even if we have every right to be angry or exasperated, we have to decide if that's how we want to go through our day, or if we want to consciously make another choice. It's natural to feel displeasure, and sometimes it's important to feel those necessary feelings. But we can allow ourselves to work through them and then choose to let them go instead of hanging onto them long after the catalytic situation is over. Your choices are always your own, and more often than not we get a confirmation that we've made the right ones. Sometimes it's in the laughter you hear from the people around you, sometimes it's a hug from a loved one, and sometimes, when you're really lucky, it's a free Coke when you really really need one.
*What I want to add about first world problems is this: So often people will classify things as "First World Problems," meaning that they really aren't anything to get upset about, especially when compared to the other, often horrendous, actual life-or-death problems that other people have to deal with. I completely subscribe to looking at our minor annoyances this way because it keeps them in perspective and gets us out of our own heads where things can be magnified. But there is also something to be said for having enough skin in the game of your life that you take things seriously, and that you care enough to let something bother you, even for a short time. I remember many years ago we had house cleaners who broke a pair of treasured candleholders I had. They were not worth a lot of money, but I really liked them, and since I had gotten them at Home Goods a few years prior they were virtually irreplaceable. I remember complaining to one of my friends about it and saying, "I know, they're just things," to which she responded passionately, "Yeah, but they're YOUR things! No one has a right to be careless with your things, you have every right to be upset about this!" And you know what? She was right. Yes, they were only things, but I was engaged enough in my life and in surrounding myself with things that I liked to look at and that brought me joy that I was upset when someone else took them from me. I CARED. I'm not someone who angers easily or who takes a lot of opportunities to be annoyed by things, but when I do choose to get upset it reminds me that I'm a person who is fully living life, jumping in with both feet, and investing in every moment with my emotions and spirit and vigor. I would much rather live my life that way, as opposed to the people I know who just cruise along on an even keel, without any ups or downs at all. Again, I don't want to hold onto things that make me upset, but feeling them at the time is another life-affirming experience that we each get to have in our time here on Earth.