I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.
I have trouble keeping my cool. I get rattled, agitated, wring my hands, lose my temper, and generally add to the stress of a stressful situation with my actions.
I’ve always been like this. In fact, whenever I’m heading into a difficult situation, my mother admonishes me, “Now, just stay calm.” I know that getting worked up doesn’t help, but it’s hard for me to keep cool.
Last night, the Big Man got home before I did. I walked in the front door to see the Big Girl crying. “Oh, what’s wrong, honey?” I said, peeling off my backpack.
She started choking out something about the Little Girl.
“Is she okay? Is she okay?” I asked, frantic.
“She’s okay,” she said, “but she’s locked in the bathroom! A locksmith is here.”
I raced to the bathroom. A locksmith was trying to break the lock, the Big Man was speaking comfortingly to the Little Girl, and the Little Girl was sobbing piteously, “I want Mommy! I want Mommy!”
I didn’t want to say anything to her, because I knew it would make her much more upset to hear me talking when I wasn’t opening the door.
We seemed to be in that hallway forever. The Big Man had a deliberately composed air, and he said to me, “Stay calm.” I started to pace around and wring my hands. When the door wasn’t opening, I said to the locksmith in a sharp voice, “Can’t we just drill a hole in the door?”
The Big Man gave me a look, and I realized – my behavior wasn’t helping. Acting agitated would just make me feel more agitated, and that would make everyone else feel more agitated, and that would only make matters worse.
I couldn’t just stand there quietly, so I decided to try to be productive. I poured the Little Girl a glass of water, located a box of Kleenex, and found a blanket. I put a DVD of the The Muppet Show in the DVD player (the Little Girl only gets to watch TV when she’s sick or as a very great treat.)
Finally, the door banged open. I’d been afraid the Little Girl might be standing close to the door, but fortunately she was cowering in the far corner of the bathroom. I rushed in, scooped her up, cuddled her in a blanket, and plopped down in a chair to rock her—also the Big Girl, who needed a lot of reassurance.
Before long the Little Girl was happily introducing her Baby Peapod to the locksmith. Of everyone, the Big Man seemed the most traumatized by the episode.
One of the most useful things I’ve learned from the Happiness Project is my Third Commandment: I should act the way I want to feel. We think that we act because of the way we feel, but in fact, we often feel because of the way we act. If I want to feel calm, I need to act calm. This sounds like magical thinking, but hard science show that the “Fake it ‘till you feel it” strategy really works.
Staying cool helped me feel calm. Also, it helped the Big Man and the Big Girl stay cool — as well as the locksmith, who was clearly distressed at listening to those desperate cries as he struggled with the door. By staying cool, we were better able to respond clearly, better able to attend to each other, and less frazzled by the whole experience.
Once again, I remind myself to “Act the way I want to feel.” Also, to figure out a way to disable the locks in our bathrooms.
The terrific site Gimundo had a great story about people with crazy abilities – one is super-flexible, one is able to control his body temperature through meditation, etc. Just the kind of thing that I love to read on a Friday afternoon!
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