In the late 90’s, a book came out called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”. It advocated letting life’s small annoyances slide. If someone cuts you off in traffic, just shake your head and give them a Buddha-like smile. Your friend is late, again. Just let it go. Not holding onto minor grudges is good, but I think there are hidden gems in these moments. By paying attention and not turning our backs on them, we can gain a whole world of insight into a better life.
Noticing the little annoyances
What irritates me may have no effect on you whatsoever. You may even wonder why anyone would get so worked up over nothing, and I might feel the same about what aggravates you. Our egos are fragile in certain areas and robust in others. It’s our individual experiences that dictate what we react to and ignore. When something happens that challenges our fragility, we prepare for battle, and depending on how sore we are in that place, our anger will rise up to match it.
We can continue getting worked up over the same things, or we can figure out why they make us feel the way they do and lay them to rest. Personally, I hate it when people say to me, “smile!” Sometimes they accompany this with two index fingers lifting either sides of their mouth. When they do this, I usually want to sock them. But most of the time, I smile wanly and walk away fuming, “Why? Was I looking like a psycho manic just now?”
I use to hear this more often when I was younger, and fair enough, I didn’t smile a lot back then. But now I’m usually in a good mood. So when this happened to me recently, it sent me spiraling. Oddly I was feeling pretty good until that moment, but after the exchange I felt like a green-eyed monster ready for a smack down. How could one little comment upset me this way? When I dig deeper, a few things come to the surface: a) I hate being told what to do, and b) maybe I haven’t changed as much as I thought.
As I write this, my ire for the person that made this comment is shrinking. My anger has nothing to do with her, and all to do with me. She simply raised issues in me that were already there: my need for control and the fear that I haven’t matured enough.
Admitting the truth
It’s only by looking behind the anger, that we can release it. By seeing what’s unconsciously motivating us, we start loosening its grip. This process requires completely honesty and courage to dig into places we’d rather avoid. The payoff is immense though – freedom from being at the mercy of other people’s words and actions.
The first step is to stop resisting what angers us. When we admit to what’s bothering us, no matter how petty or ridiculous it makes us feel, we begin to deflate the anger. This gives us space to start examining why. Inquiring into what motivates our anger is difficult, but if you stay with it and keep digging you’ll find gold.
It’s been two weeks since the “smile” comment. This experience has gone from feeling like an annoyance to a blessing. I spent the first week just being with the anger and frustration it ignited in me. Alongside the anger, there was also shame for feeling this way over something so trivial. But I know that when something repeatedly bothers me it has to do with something deeper – smiling doesn’t come naturally to me, and I resented others telling me this, especially strangers. I also hate being told what to do.
When I faced up to this fact about myself, the anger began to ease. I started to entertain the comment as a suggestion rather than a threat. I started smiling more, even when I was by myself. I saw this as the universe’s way of encouraging me to be better.
Not surprisingly the world is smiling back. People seem friendlier. Sweating one small thing at a time is changing my life.