Have you ever had one of those dreams that seems so real you had a hard time convincing yourself it wasn’t, and the emotions you felt in the dream stay with you long after you wake up? I once dreamed that my husband was cheating on me by dating the entire University of Iowa cheerleading squad, and also had the gall to tell me that it was “no big deal.” I was so angry when I woke up that it was all I could do not to slap him. And even though I knew it was just a dream, it still took me a few days before I quit glaring at him.
Which just goes to show how easy it is to get worked up about things that didn’t even happen and aren’t even real. And sadly, I’m not just talking about exceptionally vivid dreams. Or even all those annoying social media memes that are designed to generate outrage and anger, as dangerous as they can be to our emotional health. What I’m talking about is much simpler: how strongly our outlook (or our internal dialogue) can influence our mood and how we perceive the world around us.
When I’m feeling crabby, I have no problem finding things to fuel and sustain that mood. A friend who is too busy to go to lunch with me is obviously tiring of my friendship; the receptionist at the doctor’s office who doesn’t return a call right away must be incompetent; the driver who hesitates a bit too long when the light turns green absolutely has to be talking on a cell phone. None of those things may be true, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling rejected, annoyed or self-righteously outraged.
It’s actually kind of scary how easy it is to react with very real anger and hurt to something that doesn’t exist anywhere except in my tiny little mind. But the good news is that I can do something about it.
I can pay attention to that little voice in my head, and I can also rein it back in when it becomes too negative. I can remember that most of the time, I honestly have no idea why people do the things they do and that nothing good can come from automatically attributing the worst possible motivation to other people’s actions. And more importantly, I can remember that it’s almost always best to give other people the benefit of the doubt, at least until they have given me a good reason not to.
I used to think that people who believe in the power of a positive attitude were the sort of people who never really stopped believing in Santa Claus and who tended to buy into pyramid schemes with their spare money. But the older I get, the more I realize that my attitude is not only one of the few things in my life I can actually control, but that the harder I try to keep it positive, the happier I’ll be. And when I am happy rather than crabby, it’s just so much easier to also be patient, tolerant and most important of all…kind. It really is as simple as that.