Abraham Maslow has a lot to answer for. His theory is, it would seem, correct. Essentially there are things we need – water, food, shelter – and things that are nice to have – a car, nice clothes, a sense of purpose beyond just staying alive – and it’s hard to argue that our worlds don’t break down in this way. The problem is we forget the bottom of the pyramid and want (not need) things from the top of the pyramid and when we don’t get them, we get really bent out of shape.
I’m writing this from a train. I’m on my way to see a really good physio who is hopefully going to fix a long-term issue with my back [health – bottom of the pyramid]. I got to the station with loads of time and found a completely free table at which to sit. As the train departure time approached the other seats filled up one by one. First diagonally (by a guy with loud music playing from his headphones), then opposite, then next to me. Each person sitting down became more of an imposition than the last until I put my bag on my feet and put my headphones in to block out the noise of other passengers. I was pissed off. My personal sanctuary had been stormed and I was ready to quietly fume my way to my destination for 2 hours. But then I stopped and had a think. The other seats don’t belong to me. I’m choosing not to ask the guy to turn his music down. I’m not standing in the aisle like others. I’m choosing to be unhappy about this situation. I’m lucky to be visiting a subject matter expert who can help me with my long-term health. I’m grateful that I’m not working back-to-back jobs to feed myself and have the time to visit the physio.
This stuff is hard. Really hard. It’s so easy to blame the situation or another person (busy train, guy playing music) for our crappy mood. It’s painful. I want to stamp my feet and get annoyed but there’s really nobody to get annoyed with than ourselves.
I’ve used the trivial example of a train ride to illustrate my point but actually it applies to any situation. It might be a casual slight from someone in the street or it could be a massive personal trauma. What has happened, has happened, there is nothing we can do about that. However much stamping, kicking, screaming we do, the circumstances are what they are. All we can do is choose how we deal with them.
That’s not to say that personal trauma doesn’t have an impact on us, and it’s important to acknowledge that (one of the reasons I have regular sessions with a therapist) and deal with it in a helpful and appropriate way. But, we also need to change the lens through which we look at our circumstances. As Ali (my therapist) said when I asked “So, anger. Is there like a big pool of it that needs draining, or is it just a case of changing how we look at things?” “It’s both.” Damnit! It’s never easy. Choose happiness.