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October 20, 2017

Could Your Attitude Need Some Adjusting

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Small Steps Can Improve Your Happiness

Some things we cannot change about ourselves. Our gender or our height are determined by genetics. However, there are things we have control over that affect our health. These include our diet, our activity, exposure to unhealthy substances and our attitude. I would like to focus on attitude and how it affects the way we feel.

Did you ever wonder why some people seem to be happier than others? Could it be because of the way they approach their everyday life? It is safe to say that everyone’s goal is to be happy. People who do not enjoy good physical health can still be happy. Anger is a common reaction to things that happen. Anger tends to cause a rise in blood pressure and heart rate. While anger may be an appropriate response at times, it needs to be controlled. However, I think the majority of the time we would admit we get angry over things that are not really that big of a deal. 

People who tend to be happier are those who accept that people are human and tend to make mistakes. They are eager to forgive rather than be angry. Anger tends to be an emotional reaction while forgiveness and acceptance are conscious decisions that require effort. Sometimes our perceptions of what someone else is doing or saying are skewed.

I heard this story years ago and it stuck with me because it hits home and is an example of how we perceive things can cause unnecessary stress and frustration. A woman was trying to finish her Christmas shopping at a busy shopping mall. She was hungry and tired so she bought three just-baked cookies and a coffee at the food court and planned to take a break. There were no open tables so she came up to a table with a man sitting and reading his paper. He looked over his paper and nodded as she laid out her bags and belongings and sat down. Once she was settled, she saw the man reach out and take one of the cookies from the table. She did not say anything, but felt that the man had a lot of nerve and she was a little angry. She then took a cookie and noticed the man glance at her. She ate it as she sipped coffee and watched the shoppers go by. Eventually, the man folded his paper, gathered his things, picked up the remaining cookie, broke it in half, put one part on the table, pushed it towards her and walked away eating the other half. Now, she was having trouble controlling her anger as she felt her heart pound and her body tense, but there was nothing she could do. But as she gathered her bags to leave, she had a change of heart when she noticed the cookies she had purchased were still lying in the top of her purse.

I wonder if much of the anger and negative feelings that we have could be avoided by making a conscious effort to adjust our attitude and control emotional reactions. We can start every day certain there will be some unexpected annoying events that will happen. Then, for example, if someone is not driving the way we would like them to, we can just give them a friendly wave (not with the middle finger) and avoid a road rage reaction. Maybe, they are having a bad day or are dealing with problems worse than ours. We may have misconceptions about other people’s motives or their personal circumstances. Simple principles we learned in Sunday school like treating others the way we would like to be treated and showing willingness to forgive others for transgressions can go a long way towards making us a happier person.

Learning to act rather than to react in our everyday life can improve our mental health and overall happiness. Just something to think about. Stay healthy my friends.

Michael Shattuck, MD, is a family practice physician at ThedaCare Physicians-Wautoma.