Many of us wish to be happier. We look to things outside of ourselves to create happiness and we don’t realize that many of the thoughts and focuses we have either build or destroy positive feelings and emotions. A big destroyer of happiness is a way of thinking known as “shoulding”. “Shoulding” in a nutshell, is expecting perfection of ourselves, others, and the world around us. We expect everything to conform to our standards of what is right or what is good.

“Shoulding” destroys happiness because it causes what I call the slow burn or stewing anger. We usually start to get angry about something and rather than act on the anger we just keep thinking about the offensive situation and get more and more irritated. Let’s say, for example, we go to the doctor’s office for a 10:00 appointment. We get there at 9:50 just as the receptionist asked us to and start waiting for the doctor. We wait and wait and wait……… now it is 11:00 and we are furious. We say to ourselves “If I showed up this late I would be charged $25.00 and the doctor would refuse to see me” “This isn’t right” “This isn’t fair” “The doctor must think his time is more valuable than my time” We start off mildly irritated and we fan those flames of irritation into the fire of anger by the things we say to ourselves.

Anger in itself isn’t bad. Anger can motivate us to go to the receptionist and tell her that we don’t have time to wait any longer and need to reschedule the appointment. Usually when we experience anger that we act on, we release it if we act appropriately. When we tell the receptionist (politely of course) to reschedule us, or tell her that we can’t wait any longer we actually feel good about ourselves because we stood up for ourselves.

Unhealthy anger, however, is the slow burning or stewing over irritations we don’t intend to do anything about. “Shoulding” anger is often helpless anger because we don’t do anything about it so we feel somewhat helpless With this anger, we talk to ourselves in the ways mentioned above, get more frustrated and sit and stew on it. The more often we experience this helpless anger the less often we’re happy. The more often we are stoking the fire under our anger stewpot, the less it takes for us to feel miserable and we tend to overreact with anger over other situations. Often, we’re the only people our “shoulding” hurts. The more we stew, the more our brains release stress chemicals, also known as our fight or flight chemicals, into our bodies as if we are actually in a life or death situation. These stress chemicals tend to repress our immune system, and can actually increase chances of physical illness in addition to decreasing general happiness. Sometimes “shoulding” anger does hurt our loved ones too because we take our frustrations out on them.

What can we do? How can we stop or decrease “shoulding” anger so that we can build on a foundation of happiness? The first thing we need to do is be aware when we are experiencing “shoulding” anger and are feeding that anger with our thoughts. This may not be as easy as it seems because often we are so used to the way we think and the thoughts we think, they happen almost under our conscious awareness. When we do catch ourselves, it is important to congratulate ourselves for even being aware of “shoulding”. When we congratulate ourselves, is it like rewarding ourselves for doing a good job and our minds are more likely to keep doing behavior we’re rewarded for.

The next step to build our happiness is to challenge the “should”. To challenge, we can say something like “What would I say to a friend to calm them down in a situation like this?” This helps because we often give our friends better advice than we take ourselves. We can give our friends such advice because we don’t tend to be as emotionally vested in their lives as we are in our own. We can see their situations and give advice more reasonably because we are one step back from the situation. By asking ourselves the above question we help ourselves step back and view the situation more reasonably.

Another way to view the situation more reasonably and stop the slow boil, is to think of someone we know who stays calm and happy in such situations and ask ourselves “How would _____________ think about this?” “What are some of the things ______ would say to me or to themselves?” Asking ourselves what someone who doesn’t stew would do gives us a chance to learn from them and apply their thinking styles to our own life. It is actually using our friend’s or acquaintance’s talents to learn how to uplift our own lives and emotions.

A great way to stop the slow boil is to empathize with the situation or the other person involved. Empathy is trying to understand the other person or situation instead of judging it. For example, in the doctor’s office mentioned at the beginning of this article, we could say something like “Wow, I’ll bet that doctor is frantic trying to catch up.” We could say “I wouldn’t want to feel as behind as that doctor probably feels right now.” We can do anything to try to understand the other person and realize that the world isn’t all about us.

Finally, we can ask ourselves “Am I going to do anything about this?” In the example mentioned above, we looked at options like changing or canceling the appointment. If we decide that we aren’t going to do anything about the situation, we can think something to ourselves like “I refuse to hurt myself or my mood by staying angry about this. I have acknowledged my anger and have decided that I am not going to act on it so I am going to do something I like.” When we make this decision, we can take the time spent waiting doing pleasurable activities such as people watching, thinking about happy times or situations in the past, anticipating happy times in the future or even being grateful for the right now. We can focus our attention on relaxing or breathing and be grateful for the time of just “being” in a hustle and bustle world. If the situation happens frequently, like you doctor is always late, you can even anticipate and come prepared by bringing a book, magazine, or a handheld game.

When we apply the above challenges we can spend much more time feeling happy and in control of our lives and emotions; that is what we really want isn’t it? We feel empowered because we realize that ultimately we are responsible for our own happiness and by changing our thoughts we nurture our happiness. When we nurture happiness we cause it to grow and flourish and become more predominant in our lives. That feels good doesn’t it?

Yours in happiness,

Author's Bio: 

Deborah Russo is a Certified Master Clinical Hypnotherapist who successfully utilizes hypnosis to change limiting feelings, beliefs, and emotions