Recently I was at Aldi, shopping for food with my toddler. He was screaming the place down, because I looked at him. Seems reasonable! Anyway we finally got to the checkout, when the checkout lady said to the bloke behind me, "Oh you come through first, that lady will take ages to unpack and you don’t have that much stuff."
I saw red! I couldn’t believe it. I thought to myself, "I’m going to let her have it." In reality this is what I said, with flickering eye contact and shaky voice: “I really would have preferred you to ask me before letting someone else through. I have a really sore back, and have the baby with me and I am actually in a bit of a hurry.”
So assertive! She must have been terrified.
Anyway, it didn’t really work, because she just said, “Well, we always do that as a courtesy to our customers.” I repeated, “I just think asking the person if they mind would be better, or letting the person offer it themselves,” to which she replied, “I’m not here to argue with you, I did the right thing.”
What the actual…?! Seems little now, but yeah I was pretty annoyed.
So, I stewed on it all day (as you do), considered making a complaint to Aldi (never did) and then let it all out to hubby when he walked in the door that night. I looked at him expectantly when I had finished my tale of woe, waiting for I don’t know what exactly – maybe some form of sympathy or outrage, I guess. He looked at me, genuinely befuddled, and asked a one-word question: “So?”
Well! I drew my breath, and puffed my chest out ready to tell him exactly why “so,” Mister! And then I stopped. I stopped because the question had just sunk in and I didn’t have an answer to it. In what way was that event actually going to affect my life? What was I gaining by holding onto it and wasting time thinking about and even talking about it? In other words, as he so eloquently put it: "So?"
I have actually heard this lesson before, in a different way. My dad’s favorite saying is, “Oh well.” (Is it maybe a male thing?) It hasn’t sunk in for me yet. I like justice, damn it!
There is some comfort in holding tight onto things that offend you. You feel as though the offenders are paying for their “crimes,” so long as you don’t let go. If you forget it, they are getting away with it.
There is a saying: “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” And another: “Forgiveness is setting someone free, and then finding out it was you.” Sometimes (most of the time) little things people do are just that: little things. Things they possibly don’t even remember, and probably didn’t mean. Yes, sometimes they are big things, and sometimes they are intentional, and that is harder. But it is still worth it to try hard to let it go. For your sake. Because you deserve to live your best life, and harboring resentment and negativity isn’t it. I’ve spent (wasted) too much time thinking about inconsequential negative moments, and I’m tired, and I bet I’m not alone.
A friend recently commented to me that it is more comfortable to think about the “little” things in life than to "go there" with the big stuff. It gets us out of thinking about the major life issues, the uncontrollable things, and the stuff that actually does require our time and energy. In the midst of raising a toddler, keeping a marriage alive, having a demanding people-focused job, buying a house and moving into it, dealing with a chronic back condition, and being away from my family, on top of some other personal issues that are really draining, why do I spend time focusing on this crap? Because it’s comfortable? It’s not, really. It’s not comfortable, but it’s easy and it’s automatic. That’s how our brains are wired: for survival.
We are wired to see the potential threat in everything, at least according to evolutionary psychology. And we keep these potential threats at the forefront of our minds, to keep us alert, alive and “safe.” Even though we don’t often encounter actual threats to our survival in Australia in 2017. If someone looks at us funny it doesn’t usually mean we are going to lose our tribe and be left to fend for ourselves in the woods and then probably die of starvation. It probably just means someone has on their resting bitchy face, or something equally benign.
The things we tend to focus on are more perceived threats than actual ones, and they are not worth holding onto so tightly. What was I afraid of in Aldi that morning? What was the “threat to my survival?” Well, I guess I felt embarrassed about my screaming kid, and worried that if I had to stand another minute I may not have had the strength left to pack the groceries and get them to the car and still drive home.
Was that likely to happen? No. There were plenty of people around to help me if need-be, and I even had my phone on me for any worst case scenarios. But the anxiety was automatic, and I guess in writing this I’m just realizing that this is the way I am wired. I’m normal. Woohoo!
But there are ways to soften the blow of this automatic reaction. There is a term “Metacognition,” which means “thinking about thinking.” It’s having the awareness of your own thought processes. Once we are aware of not only what we are thinking but how we are thinking and why we are thinking it, it is possible to use certain strategies to alter the neural pathways in our brains, so that our automatic pilots aren’t always set to fear and anxiety. This is a very basic example of something called neuroplasticity, which is so fascinating I might talk about more another time.
So what sorts of things should we set our minds to instead of fear and negativity?
Many studies have been done about the “key to a happy life.” One theme that runs throughout them all is thankfulness and contentment. Be thankful and content where you are, rather than always wanting things to be different, or wanting more, or striving to be better at this or that. Don't be stuck in the past with an “it’s not fair” victim mentality, or stuck in the future with “what if,” worst-case-scenario anxiety. Just be where you are, be grateful for it, and be content in it. Let the other stuff – the negative stuff, the unfair stuff, the scary stuff – go.
Next time I will try not to think about the Aldi lady all day, I will not make myself more and more angry and worked up. I will pretend I am a duck and let it roll right off my back. I will be like that movie Pollyanna and think about what I have to be “glad” about. I will concentrate on things I am thankful for every day. I’ll sit still and be in the moment. I won’t drink any more poison. And then I’ll hopefully be set free. Well, I will try anyway. I’m sure it will be a work in progress!