I was given such an Ah-Ha moment many years ago that changed my thinking forever.
We were preparing for a summer camping trip with the kids. I was doing loads of laundry in preparation for leaving the next day. But the job was hindered by a water pressure problem that I had been experiencing for several weeks.
For some reason the water filling my laundry tub was so slow it seemed to take forever. It was one of the things on my husband’s to do list to take care of.
In the meantime, I had improvised by using a small hose attached to the faucet next to my washing machine. It was an excellent short term solution as long as I remained close by to shut the faucet off when the washing machine was full. I had been successful up to this day even though there were a few times when I had to run to get the office phone and almost didn’t make it back in time.
On this busy trip preparation day, the office phone call I went to answer took longer than I had anticipated. By the time I returned to my laundry the water had overflowed onto the floor, run the length of the laundry room saturating boxes of fabric and sewing supplies and was beginning to flood my kitchen as well.
Oh no! I couldn’t have been gone that long! Was I? I quickly shut off the water, surveyed the mess, and stood there discouraged and angry. There was so much to do. I didn’t need this catastrophe on top of everything else.
And as our mind is wont to do, it quickly searches for somewhere or someone to place blame.
At about that time, my husband opened the door from the garage. He looked at the floor and at me and his face went from Oops to the beginning of a tiny grin which he tried to suppress. He was always able to find that bit of humor in almost everything without ever laughing at anyone else’s misfortune.
I looked at him and without words said: “Don’t you dare laugh.”
But then, a funny thing happened. For whatever reason, in a flash of insight, I realized that I too could laugh. I had a choice: I could allow my anger to escalate and spew out unkind and cutting words to my husband or see the humor in the situation. I remember thinking; I didn’t want to give up my anger.
There is a payoff to hanging on to our anger – especially if you can blame the adversity onto someone else.
I decided to laugh. I remember very vividly my whole body instantly changing: tension flowed away as the anger melted and I really could see the humor in the situation.
I realized I had just experienced a very valuable lesson in life. In any situation, we have the choice to hang onto the first reactionary response or to change that response.
I still had the mess to clean up. Removing and drying the contents of the boxes added to the list of chores to complete. But while anger can instigate a lot of immediate energy, it usually is destructive when it stays in place. However, the tedious tasks are so much easier to accomplish with a sense of humor.
Anger has a legitimate purpose and we need to acknowledge it and own it. We decide whether there is a reason to hang onto it or whether it isn’t worth our time and energy. And it is up to us to use it in constructive ways.
As we talk about our mindsets, attitudes and emotional responses this month, it is important to remember that events in and of themselves do not create our emotional responses, but rather what we think about those events, our beliefs, expectations and assumptions associated with them along with our emotional investment.