It’s a Tuesday morning and I’m irritated with someone. I’m gritting my teeth and taking deep breaths and resisting the urge to ball my fingers up. It doesn’t matter who I’m irritated with or why. What matters is that suddenly I’m consumed by negativity. My mood is sour and I’m pursing my lips when only four minutes ago I was sprinkling salt and pepper on my fried egg with nothing but calm, neutral brain waves coursing through me. I’m allowing my negative thoughts to slowly slip over me like a thick woolen cloak with a hood—suffocating in this July heat—and I can no longer see the situation in front of me as it actually exists.
The more I replay my morning, the more my annoyance and anger closes out the potential for sunshine like a set of ugly fifteen pound curtains blocking the ocean view. This negativity takeover is not uncommon, though I aim for it to be. It happens to all of us in varying degrees of severity, but it is always surmountable.
I’ve learned through conversations with my sage parents and through years of practice that we must take two steps in order to overcome moments like this. The first step is being self-aware enough to recognize when you are actively making yourself unhappy. Of course, people in this world can be hurtful and careless, which triggers bad responses in us and makes it easy for us to place blame on the people in our environment for the way we feel. But no single person is responsible for affecting our level of happiness save for ourselves. We control our responses to every circumstance and person in our lives.
And when we focus perpetually on someone’s negative words, actions, and characteristics, eventually this is all we see.
Before I started driving my car, I’d never seen a 1999 Mercedes—or at least I wasn’t aware that I had seen one. But once I began cruising that boat down PCH on a daily basis, I saw models of my car everywhere I went. Was there suddenly a dramatic resurgence of ‘99 Benzes in the Orange County area? Absolutely not. The car was in my consciousness now and so I noticed it more.
This is the same principle with anything in life, including the way we view the people around us. Harp on the fact that your local barista is dismissive and rude and you will continue to see him that way. Hold a grudge about your thoughtless, flaky friend and she will always disappoint you. Bitch to your boyfriend about your insensitive sister and that will become the first thing you think of when you see her.
This is when step two comes in. Instead of dwelling on the negative, open your eyes and your consciousness to someone’s better qualities. Is your sister insensitive? Maybe. But that’s the smallest fragment of who she is. Likely she is also kind and hilarious and loving and wants the best for you. Start focusing on someone’s good attributes and soon these qualities will rise to the forefront of your consciousness and this is what will become most visible.
If it helps to verbalize or list out the reasons why you care for, appreciate, and love someone, do it. Respect yourself and your relationships enough to pay due attention to the good things around you. When you give the people in your life the opportunity to impress and support you, somehow they always do.