One of my more disagreeable faults is my irritability. I lose my temper easily; I “speak in a mean voice” as my daughters describe it; I become impatient and act annoyed; I feel anxious about something, so I snap at my family; I feel criticized, so I lash out.
One thing puzzles me. When I know I’m feeling crabby or anxious, I make a special attempt to stay calm, and I do a fair job of mastering myself. I’m not 100% successful, but I’m certainly better than I was before I started my happiness project.
But sometimes, I’ll be feeling normal enough, and some comment will come flying out of my mouth, with a harsh edge that surprises me as much as anyone. I don’t think I’m repressing huge amounts of rage, I think I’m just irritable. But where does that irritability come from?
In my case, I think that a potent source of anger is my desire for control, or perfectionism. I feel angry when people (like my husband and children) don’t do what I want them to do, when I want them to do it, how I want them to do it. And I feel angry when I don’t have control, or can’t do things perfectly, myself. Even with little things.
For example, my husband has an idiosyncrasy that, although relatively harmless, really challenges my patience: he doesn’t give information. If I ask, “What are you making for dinner?” “What time are we meeting your parents?” “Who was on the phone?” he just doesn’t answer these questions. Odd, right? He’s not hiding anything, he just doesn’t answer. In the past, this made me crazy, and now I’m trying my best to let it go – or even joke about it. Whether or not he should change, he’s not going to change, so I should just let it go. But it does push my need-for-control button.
Whatever the source of the irritation, this kind of harsh interaction is quite unpleasant, both for me and the people around me. It puts a pall over a perfectly pleasant moment.
I think I need to step up my mindfulness. Yipes, mindfulness! So important to happiness, so challenging to cultivate. When I recognize that I’m feeling edgy, I can make the effort to master myself.
Gretchen Rubin Bio
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, The Happiness Project.Learn More