Do You Really Want Your Neighbor’s Wonderful Life?

Are you feeling angry? Tired?  Frustrated? Envious? Do you think you are working harder than ever, yet not making much progress?

If your answer is yes, you are not alone.

Millions of people feel that life is passing them by. No matter what they do, it is always the other guy who gets the promotion, buys fancy cars, and sends his kids to Harvard, while they are barely treading water.

Are they right? And if so, what is the solution?

Facebook version of reality

Beach Vacation

Beach Vacation

You “friend” people on Facebook. Or other “social media” sites. Then they send you pictures of their beach vacations, their happy and smart kids, their new cars. And here you are, struggling with the daily grind of your mundane life.

Disconnect

Anger often arises if you want something badly, and your desires are thwarted. Or you think you deserve something, and yet you end up not getting it.

Frustration commonly has similar roots.

Reality

The real world exists.

We want it to be a certain way, but it is a stubborn beast. It goes along its merry way, impervious to our desires. It defies our efforts to control it.

Sooner or later, reality clashes with our expectations. The results, if not put into perspective, can be disastrous.

Grown-ups’ problems

tantrumAs children, we are often pampered. If we want something, we go to our parents, and demand we get it. If we don’t get our way, some of us throw a tantrum.

And then we grow up.

Control and compare

The first clash with reality in an adult world comes through comparisons.

We look at our colleagues and our neighbors. And we feel envious if they are better off than we are. Because we feel that we are just as smart as they are, if not smarter.

Envy, if not dealt with firmly and rationally, leads to resentment, bitterness, and anger.

From here, where?

So you are upset. You are better (you think), but your colleagues get all the riches. You hate that.

angryWhere is this going to lead you? Anger, hatred, resentment … this is a recipe for sleepless nights and an acid feeling in your gut. Will this make you any richer? Will that Lamborghini parked next door find its way into your garage?

No, and no.

You will be no richer, and your outlook towards life is likely to get clouded. Your enjoyment of life will diminish.

So what is the answer?

We need less envy, and more clarity of thought, more empathy, more gratitude.

Think about it.

You envy your neighbor’s mansion, his big car, his fancy vacations. But they do not exist in a vacuum. They are often the end result of a number of decisions he made along the way. Decisions which you do not know about. Decisions that you might not have made if you had that choice.

Perhaps he studied hard while his college classmates were out partying.

Perhaps he toiled at part-time jobs while others were slumped in front of their TVs, sipping beer and devouring potato chips.

Do you want his whole life?

This is the real clincher.

Your neighbor’s life is a package deal.

LamborghiniYou drool over his car. But with it might come his son’s drug addiction, his wife’s loneliness and depression, the alimony he pays to ex-wives, and the grief he gets from them. If you want his car, you will have to accept his problems, too. Ready for the deal?

Pick and choose

That is what we want to do. We want the “Facebook” elements of others’ lives, but we want to steer clear of their problems, many of which we do not even know about. Life does not work like that.

Live happily ever after?

And even if you got your neighbor’s life, and his riches, then what? You will ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after? Hardly. Life is not a Hollywood movie.

Where now?

You need a strategy to deal with life. Bitterness, envy, resentment, anger, and frustration are not strategies. They are symptoms. Symptoms that you are not happy in your own skin.

Accept reality

You are what you are. Sit down. Take a deep breath in. Look deep inside you. Analyze your strengths and weaknesses. Be grateful for what you have. You probably have more than a lot of the 7 billion or so people on this planet, especially if you live in the Western world.

Then take a cold, hard look at your problems. Is the lack of a Mercedes a real problem? Do you really need a beach house and several million dollars to be happy in this world? If so, mankind is really doomed.

What matters in life

Sooner or later, you will have to decide what it is that you really want. What will make you happy? What will give your life meaning? What will give you satisfaction?

If your answers deal with material things, you will always be disappointed. Kids will move out, and the large house will be mostly empty, except for stuff. Stuff that nobody uses anymore.

JunkThe car will lose its shine. The new car smell will fade. Eventually, it will go to the junk yard.

Stuff is temporary. Life is temporary.

The neighbor’s Lamborghini? It will end up as scrap metal one day.

So what should you do?

  • Remember all the good things that have happened to you.
  •  Be Grateful!

    Be Grateful!

    Be grateful for all of them.

  • Live in the moment and enjoy it to the fullest. This is the only moment you have. The past is gone. The future is not guaranteed. So enjoy all aspects of the present moment. This is when you are alive. This is your life.
  • Focus on friends, family, love.
  • You have one life. It might not be perfect. But it is yours. Live it, instead of grumbling about it.

 

Choose Today: How Not to be Angry

Wouldn’t you just love to have everything go your way?

Your spouse does everything you want him or her to do, even before you express your wishes.

Your boss gives you a raise before you can ask for it.

The red traffic lights all turn to green just as you approach them, and traffic jams dissolve before you get snarled up in them.

Well, dream on. Real life is not like that.

Welcome to reality

robot

You don’t really control much of anything at all, if you think about it deeply enough. You can control your actions, barely, if you work hard at it. Everything else… well, good luck!

Frustration begets anger

There are many reasons for people to get angry. We have discussed this in detail in a previous post at http://goo.gl/3Q6Moz. A major cause is the frustration resulting from the realization that things are not going the way you want them to go.

And, by the way, others often don’t do what we want them to do. Ever notice that? That can make you fly off the handle, too, if you are not careful.

Disappointment and worry

worry

We tend to have expectations of how people should behave, how things should turn out, how our lives should unfold. Yet nobody has all of his or her expectations met.

Unmet expectations, constant worry, and disappointment can all be expressed as an outburst of anger.

Why worry about anger?

Many authorities warn us about the dangers of uncontrolled anger.

An Indian epic of philosophy and religion, the Gita, warned us about a living hell on earth thousands of years ago:

          Trividham narkasya idam dvaram nashanamatmanah

          Kamah krodhastada lobhastasmadetat trayam tyajet  (Gita 16:21)

This Sanskrit verse tells us that there is a door which leads the living soul to hell and destruction. This door is made up of three parts: anger, uncontrolled lust/desire, and greed. All three of these evils must be rejected forthright.

When to seek help

When anger interferes significantly with your lifestyle, your work, your relationships, it is time to take action. Some steps you can take yourself, while others are best done under the supervision of professionals.

Know thyself!

There is no way you can get a handle on your anger issues unless you first take a step back, sit down in a quiet place, and ask yourself: “What makes me angry?”

It is not that difficult

You do not need to reinvent the wheel here. Most people get angry with issues related to family members, friends, their careers/ work environment, or traffic problems.

traffic

Most of the triggers involve a feeling of loss of control, or things not going according to your plans or wishes.

Identify the major situations and triggers which set off a spasm of anger, and preferably write them down.

Confine yourself to major or frequent issues. As they say, don’t sweat the small stuff.

What do you really want?

This is often the crux of the problem. We want X to love us, but he or she loves Y.

We want the cars ahead of us to get a move on and get out of our way, because we are getting late.

We want the book we wrote to become an overnight success.

When it doesn’t happen, we get angry.

We need to ask ourselves, “What do I really want to happen, which is not happening?”

Logic dissolves anger

Logic

Once you start thinking things through calmly, your brain starts taking control, and your emotions stop pulling and pushing you all over the place.

Distorted thinking, rapid-fire decision making, and impulsive, aggressive action are the hallmarks of the anger response. Shining the light of reason can help to dispel the darkness of emotion and anger.

So solve the problem!

When you explode in anger, you are reacting (quite often, over-reacting).

Let’s get away from that, identify the problem, and then try to solve it.

Once you find out what makes you angry, and what you would like to be different, it is time to ask yourself: “Can I do anything about it?”

Tried controlling others?

It usually cannot be done. The only one truly under your control is yourself, and your own actions. So quit trying to control the world (or your spouse)!

Light a candle

Candle

Don’t just curse the darkness!

Once you identify a problem, try to think about solving it in a different way. Instead of blaming others, make an attempt to change your own behavior and expectations.

Suppose you and your spouse are often late for your appointments. Instead of ranting and raving at your significant other, and blaming them for always making you late, ask yourself if they are overworked. If you help lighten their load, they will appreciate it, and have more time to get ready.

Change yourself, and perhaps others will notice it, and be more motivated to work with you to solve problems rationally.

Other techniques

We have discussed time-outs, yoga, deep breathing, mindful meditation, exercise and their role in anger management in a previous article at http://goo.gl/v9dQ0d.

Avoiding grudges, practicing forgiveness, and use of humor are also beneficial techniques.

Professional help

Seek the help of trained specialists:

  • If your own steps to manage your anger do not show satisfactory results.
  • If you cause harm to others during your outbursts.
  • If your anger causes problems with your job and career.
  • If you do things in a fit of anger which you wish you had not done.
  • If you have had problems with law enforcement agencies as a consequence of your actions when you were angry.

Epictetus of Rome (55 AD- 135 AD)

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

“When you are offended at any man’s fault, turn to yourself and study your own failings. Then you will forget your anger.”

The philosopher emphasized that external events cannot disturb your equilibrium, no matter how nasty they are. Only you can do that, by deciding how you will react emotionally to those events. Choose wisely and thoughtfully.

The Gita, again

Gita

          Shaknotihaiva yah sodhum prak sharira vimokshanata

          Kamakrodhotabhavama yogama sa yuktaha sa sukhi narah (Gita 5:23)

This verse tells us that there are waves (usually giant waves) of uncontrolled desires and uncontrolled anger that all human beings experience during their lives. The true yogi, the one who has mastered yoga, and the truly happy person, is he or she who is able to tolerate and ride out these waves.

Summary

  • You have a choice.
  • Choose not to be angry, but to solve the problem.
  • Choose to be a yogi.
  • Choose to be happy.
  • There are many techniques and many pathways to a happy and satisfying life. Read more about this in my book “How to Lead a satisfying Life: 11 Universal Lessons From the Gita,” available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00W5TGM1U.

 

Do You Know What Makes You Angry?

Superman

“I’m mad, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

“Don’t get mad, get even!”

Comments and advice about anger are pervasive. People get angry, and then do something about it: act on it, get even, whatever.

It usually makes matters worse.

Act on your anger?

We have all seen examples of problems this can create.

The idea of revenge, of getting even with the person who has wronged you, of hitting out at whomever has made you angry, can be very enticing, especially when you are in the throes of your strong emotion. However, doing that can often hurt you more than it hurts the other person. And it frequently does not solve the problem.

As Mahatma Gandhi believed, an eye for an eye will eventually make the entire world blind.

So bottle up your anger?

That is not very helpful, either.

It is far better to understand your anger and its manifestations. This can be a prelude to making realistic plans to control your anger and channel your feelings in a more healthy direction.

Why are you angry?

This is the most important question you must ask yourself when you get angry, or at least as soon as you are capable of rational thinking after your anger eases up a little.

Unless you can identify the underlying reasons for your anger, it is unlikely that you will be able to control the damage it does.

Judging situations

We have a storm of thoughts constantly raging in our minds. Thoughts are essential, because they determine our actions.

So when we are in a novel situation, our minds immediately go to work. We first evaluate the conditions and quickly decide whether we are safe or not.

This is a built-in evolutionary response. If our ancestors did not perceive threats quickly and respond to them right away, they had to pay a heavy price. It was essential for survival that they evaluate and act promptly.

We still have those mechanisms in us, but they do not always function as they were designed to. Also, not everybody learns the skills needed to view reality objectively.

So we can misinterpret reality, and that can make us angry.

Response to a threat

Anger is a very common response whenever we feel that we or our loved ones are facing a significant threat. The signs and symptoms of anger, which we are all familiar with, are the result of hormonal changes in our bodies, with the underlying aim being to help us to deal with the threat rapidly and aggressively.

tiger

Adrenaline pours into our bloodstream, our blood pressure and heart rate rise, and the blood flow to muscles increases. We are prepared for “fight or flight.”

All of this happens very fast, with our thinking simplified in order to just assess the threat and respond immediately. Detailed and nuanced thinking is put on the back burner.

What threat?

Sorting this out can be challenging.

The threat might be real, and it might be directed at your body.

If you are in school, a bully could be threatening you with bodily harm. As an adult, you could be assaulted by another person.

At times, the threat is to your loved ones. And that can make you even more angry. In the animal kingdom, if a baby bear faces an aggressor, the mama bear gets very vicious and fights off the invader. Human parents can behave similarly.

Threat to property

An intruder could enter your home and attempt to rob you. Most people would respond to this with anger as a prelude to violence.

Threat to ego

This can provoke anger which is often misplaced, and uncalled for.

“How dare he/she say that/do that to me!”

In strongly patriarchal societies, men can have inflated egos, and misconstrue simple comments from their significant others as direct challenges to their “authority,” or ego. This triggers a spontaneous, angry response, which can, at times, escalate into a violent outburst of rage.

Members of certain groups can take offence if they hear statements from their colleagues which they consider to be “disrespectful.”

There are also people who have a rather distorted sense of self-esteem. The slightest blow to that image they have of themselves is poorly tolerated, and can lead to outbursts of anger.

Gang violence can be a manifestation of the above phenomenon.

Threat may be imaginary

anger

This is one of the major problems we notice when we explore the emotion of anger in detail.

Real threats provoke anger, and that can be beneficial, as we try to urgently deal with an unexpected danger to life, limb, or property.

However, people can also imagine threats, and perceive threats which do not truly exist, except in their own minds. This leads to an unthinking angry response, which can hurt them.

Take a married couple, for example. One partner says or does something, which the other person does not like. It might be an innocent act, but the other person might take it as a deliberate slight. This can provoke either an outburst of rage, or sometimes passive anger, which can remain pent-up, and lead to chronic resentment. If there is a lack of frequent, honest communication, this can become a recurrent behavior pattern, driving the partners apart, and even leading to divorce.

Childhood conflicts

angry child

Not everybody has a perfect childhood. Many adults, however, can reconcile themselves with those experiences, and develop healthy attitudes as grown-ups.

Some people, on the other hand, are unable to move beyond the traumatic childhood events, which again could be real or imaginary.

A child who faces rejection from his or her parent, friends or relatives may carry a sense of bitterness, failure, and resentment into adulthood. This can cause a poor self image and a rather fragile ego. As an adult, such a person can become hyper-critical of others, and react angrily to otherwise ordinary comments and occurrences.

Unrealistic expectations

People may have an image of their abilities which is not shared by others. This leads them to feel that they will achieve certain financial or career goals, and when that does not happen, they feel disappointed. In some people, this disappointment turns into chronic bitterness, resentment, and anger.

Similarly, many people expect their friends, family members, or colleagues to act in a certain way, which may or may not be realistic. When faced with a different response, some of these these people can get very angry.

Loss of control

We are not always in control of events in the world or even in our lives. Unexpected things happen with surprising regularity in the lives of human beings. Some people are able to deal with it reasonably well, while others are not. This loss of control is a common cause for anger in many people.

Our desires or goals are interrupted

Angry

“I wanted to lead this project, but my boss has appointed John instead.”

“I wanted a diamond ring for my birthday, but my husband bought me a washing machine.”

“I want to earn a million dollars in the next five years, but the job market does not understand my unique skills.”

Feelings of entitlement

“I am smart. I should have a better job/more money/better girlfriend or boyfriend/bigger house/better car.”

Learned behavior and genetics

There are households in which one parent or the other always reacts to any unpleasant event with uncontrolled anger. Children in these households grow up without learning healthy methods of dealing with disappointments. Many of them are chronically angry as adults.

Workplace environments can also produce similar results. If your boss is constantly yelling and screaming at his or her subordinates, you might pick up those behavior patterns also, and start thinking that that is an appropriate way of dealing with others who report to you.

There is also a school of thought which believes that some children are predisposed to be more angry and irritable, and this persists in later life.

Frustration, skills and the blame game

GOLFER

A lot of people who get unduly angry repeatedly have poor social skills and a low tolerance for frustration. They have limited problem solving skills, and often blame others for their problems and their outbursts of anger. Their perception of reality is often distorted and one-sided.

Summary

Things are not always going to go the way we want them to go. People are not always going to behave the way we want them to. That is the nature of life. We need to learn to deal with this. Yelling and screaming and blaming others will not get us far. We have all seen people who do that, and most of them end up hurting themselves or their loved ones.

On the other hand, we have also seen people who react to similar circumstances in a more calm, relaxed, and mature manner. They focus on solving problems, not just on assigning blame.

We can learn to cope with our anger. For that, we need to understand what makes us angry, and then we can go on to acquire anger management skills.

We will deal with that in our subsequent posts. Stay tuned.

What about you?

What makes you angry?

How do you deal with your anger?

Please let us know.