After reading the Happier Now book, I’ve been carefully observing what brings happiness into my life. What has also become clear for the past week or so is how easy it is to have your happiness squished. Now, intellectually, I’ve known this a long time. Haven’t you read somewhere that it takes some large number of compliments to override one put-down?
For me, one of those “highly sensitive persons,” some of the unkind things that were said to me stuck for decades. I thought of myself as “fatso” even when I was of an average size. And as an adult, there have been a few things people said to me that I couldn’t shake. I let their perceptions of me affect my self esteem.
These days, I’m doing better, and that’s great. Yay me. Still, you can’t avoid negativity and negative people in life. Some of them you’re related to or have to work with, you know. And, as we have been talking about this morning, as we sip our coffee, there are some folks who just don’t like to see someone else happy or doing well, so they try to pull them down to their level (apparently this is common in all the families of origin in my household).
But, what has shocked me, and what I’ve decided I need to figure out how to handle better, is how easily my happiness can get squished by people around me. I’m sharing some personal examples next, not to criticize others, but to talk about how we might interact more successfully.
On Friday, I had a wonderful conversation with someone I’d known when I worked for La Leche League. We were talking about how she could contribute to the online newsletter I edit for Friends of LLL. In the conversation, she told me how much she enjoyed my writing and had been following my career in its ups and downs. This is exactly the kind of kindness that the Happier Now book talked about, where you let someone who probably doesn’t even know you’re thinking about them know what they mean to you. This made me feel all warm and pleasant inside.
After the call, I wanted to share my great experience with Lee, so I went into his office, and said, “I’m off the call now!” and prepared to share my story with him. He turned to me and informed me that he knew I was done, since I was so loud on the phone that it interfered with his work. That made me feel bad, and I went into overdrive trying to figure out some way that my need to be on the phone when I’m in the Cameron office could disturb him less. I suggested I could work from the ranch on days with lots of calls, but he said, “Well, you don’t like it when I do that!” Boom, the whole conversation had turned into a typical spousal discussion of who irritated whom, and I had turned back into my defensive self that is not how I want to be.
I never got to share the nice story, and ended up with a lump in my chest the rest of the day, rather than a pleasant glow. Lee knows he has a tendency to lead with the negative in conversations, and he’s working on it, I hear. My job is to do what I can do, which is work on my reactions to it. I’m still at a loss. Luckily we have many years ahead of us to figure that out.
Then, yesterday I was at the thrift shop, having had to cancel my day’s plans, because we were low on volunteers, and it is my job to be sure we have enough. I was happy to do it, and at the same time, I shared a few pictures of what we were doing on social media, so our Milam Touch of Love fans would know we were out doing stuff.
I wasn’t very specific about it, though, because we had hoped to get people from the local community to come, rather than Cameron or Rockdale folks. I was feeling good about being able to do volunteer work that helped the animals in our county.
Then, one of the group members started telling me I was not being a very good social media person. Why didn’t I post a map of where we were rather than general directions? Why didn’t I list the hours? Why hadn’t I made a Facebook event for the microchip event?
I thought, wow, I’m doing a shitty job here! Oh no! I totally forgot the reason why I did what I did (because that’s what we’d agreed to do and what the person who organized the event wanted, so our people could gain experience without being rushed). I tried to brush it off, made a few changes to please the group member, and kept working. But, after the sixth or seventh critical message, I was about to take all my toys and go home.
When I was told about the five Ws of journalism, that was the end for me. I got a strong urge to go all defensive and list my qualifications to do social media for their little bitty volunteer organization, list the publications I edit, the jobs I have held, and on and on. My fun day of volunteering had turned into a festival of self-doubt and annoyance. Thank goodness I had the maturity to remind myself that other people’s opinions of me are not necessarily true, and that there’s really no need to tell the world how qualified I think I am. I just need to know that, myself. AND I needed to remember I was actually doing what I was supposed to do. Plus, I knew that the group member who was telling me how to do things is used to issuing orders and being in charge. I can’t hold it against them.
Eventually the event organizer explained why we were doing what we did, and the “helpful” criticism ceased. We ended up having a good day, and got plenty of people to show up by delaying our advertising and letting out team ease into it.
To Think About
Both these experiences taught me a lot. One is a lesson to myself. I’m going to make even more of an effort to time my criticism of others in a way that doesn’t make them forget all the good they do. And I am going to try to find out the facts before I jump into how people are handling a situation (I have already learned this and have it as a priority, which I hope has helped me not come across as a know-it-all and stopped me giving advice where none is needed).
And, of course, I can’t change how others choose to interact with me. But I can do my best to nip in the bud my own tendencies to make it worse by over-reacting and bring defensive. I need to do what Happier Now reminded me: think of the reason WHY people do what they do, which leads to understanding and empathy.
Whew, life is hard, isn’t it? Do you have any stories to share of how you handle this kind of thing?