Reality Check: Going My Way?

Things don’t always go my way. It’s possible that things don’t always go your way, either.

Given that’s the reality, how do we deal with it? What responses are effective when we are faced with the inevitable disappointments, perceived unfairnesses, and general misfortunes that come our way?

How we respond says something about us. Children, at least in some families, demonstrate their unhappiness with crying, stomping and tantrums. Come to think of it, there could be a few adults who demonstrate similar behaviours.

We’re all familiar with the many and varied responses we can use to let the world know that things are not going our way. Among them: we can pout; we can shout; we can deliver clever, withering criticism.

Yet the interesting question remains: What responses are effective?

As with so many questions, the answer depends on knowing what you want to achieve, doesn’t it?

Some folks have a sense that to be “true to oneself” means that it’s essential to let their opinion be known. That is, to be authentic and honest, you must say exactly what is going through your head.

If you follow that logic, then when your friend ignores your advice and chooses an unflattering hairstyle, you’d better tell her. Not too sure about your uncle’s girlfriend? Let him know. Your mother expresses a viewpoint that you don’t agree with? You must ensure that she knows how wrong she is.

So, are those examples of being “true to yourself?” Or are they taking opportunities to vent or to hurt under the guise of honesty?

Mike didn’t get the promotion he had expected. He knew he had the qualifications. He is sure that he was the best choice among the candidates. But the job went to someone else.

This result was a big blow for Mike. He had prepared, he had taken on extra work; he had done everything he could possibly think of to help him get that promotion.

When Mike’s boss told him that he wasn’t the successful candidate, Mike could respond by being “true to himself” and say how he feels. He could stomp out and slam the door. He could complain about how stupid and wrong this decision is. Those responses are among his options.

However, we all know that this kind of response is not going to be helpful for Mike. Even if he no longer plans to stay with this company, Mike will be better served if he can manage to keep his composure as he hears this disappointing news.

When we are talking about a work situation, it might seem pretty obvious that an effective response isn’t one that involves stomping around and complaining. Your responses matter; they have consequences.

But how about situations where we don’t perceive a consequence? When the thing that’s not going our way is relatively trivial? For example, what do we do when the grocery store lineup is slow? Or when our appointment is cancelled? Or we’ve been forgotten, offended, or insulted?

Some folks seem to perceive that it’s necessary to express their dissatisfaction; that it’s dishonest to hold back.

Dr. Joel Wade, in The Virtue of Happiness, says, “To be honest is not to be brainless.” We don’t need to display every impulse that comes over us. We have choice. As Dr. Wade puts it, when we choose which of our habits we act on and reinforce, we are taking responsibility for our lives.

When something doesn’t go our way, a question that can help us choose whether to be silent or to say something is, “Will what I am about to say make this situation better or worse?”

When do you express yourself openly? When do you choose to hold back?

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