You're not upset for the reason you think

My poster for the local library, announcing my upcoming Surviving Stress lecture, gave me away. The librarian had something important to share.

"I'm old enough that I'm not bothered much by things that used to give me fits. But there was one exception.

I was working in the kitchen and suddenly dropped a dish. When the dish hit the floor, I hit the ceiling.


"I flew into a rage so overwhelming it scared me. I could have easily broken every dish in the kitchen, smashed everything else, and still not quelled the anger. I just stood there, shaking, until the mood passed."

She looked at me questioningly for a cause.

It was not the dish. She was upset for an entirely different reason. I offered a personal example:

I was printing several charts and graphs to take to a lecture when the computer printer suddenly refused to work. None of the usual fixes had any effect. The printer was obviously killing my chance of giving the presentation prepared and on time.

After a few more minutes of frustration, I, too, felt pure rage coming on. I seriously considered throwing the printer through the window -- without bothering to open the window. But then I remembered: You are not upset for the reason you think.

I looked again. I'm getting old. The occasional computer problems I used to solve easily are now becoming difficult. The printer wasn't doing this to me. It wasn't the printer's fault. The printer was just a printer. "Forgiving" the lowly printer stopped the escalation.

My favorite example of upsets due to communication failure is the turkey story. For decades, Grandma has hosted the family Thanksgiving dinner. Lately, however, this has become an overwhelming chore. Not wanting to disappoint the family, she is resolved to repeat the tradition.


The family is concerned. They don't want to disappoint Grandma, but they're worried that the traditional festivities are becoming too much for her to handle.

Communication would resolve everybody's concerns. For example, Grandma could invite the family for a beautiful time together as usual, and then order carry-out pizza as the new tradition.

The solution is not turkey vs. pizza but stating intention clearly instead of being overly concerned about what they would think. Many times, what's so --  is also -- so what?

I'm sure you have received a present or a favor from someone and immediately realized it was not what you wanted or had in mind.

The reverse is all too true. Despite careful planning, gifts you sometimes offer, however well intended, miss the mark.


The expectation for your future could be bleak or glorious. The future, it turns out, doesn't care all that much. Focusing on what matters regardless of the outcome contributes to goals you can achieve and upsets you can avoid.

Who you think you are is in constant jeopardy; who you actually are is indestructible. They / them / it can only threaten your self-image, not your self. Upsets can often result when we forget this.

I saw a particularly attractive offer on an Internet site ad that was too good to miss. I was skeptical, but the satisfaction guarantee and instant return privilege quickly convinced me to place an order. The object arrived promptly. It was junk. My next move was to contact the company and request a refund.


          "Your call is important to us and will be answered in the order received."

Twenty minutes later, still on hold, it was clear that the company's intention was to drag out the return process, making it nonprofitable to return the item. They were right. Twenty minutes of my lab time bills out at considerably more than this item costs. My intention, however, was clear from the start: If they can supply a satisfactory product, I'll be happy to buy it.

One choice at this point would be tossing the item in the trash and forgetting about it. This response could work, but only if I let it go without upset. Another reaction would be to see it through and get my refund, knowing I had already lost any hope of economic recovery. That, too, would be satisfactory, but only if the resolution was worth my time and effort. 

The key here is satisfaction. Weighing both possibilities and selecting my response allowed me to take positive action, avoiding upset instead of just feeling ripped off.

Remembered upsets involving my First Seargent are occasionally in my thoughts. As satisfying as this may sometimes be, this doesn't work well overall. We don't get to keep "favorite" upsets and eliminate the rest. Regarding our physical reactions, all upsets are the same, independent of cause or severity.


A particular upset or a recurring theme showing up with annoying regularity can give you valuable information. In Buddhist terms: Anger is an arrow pointing to what is most beneficial to change.

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