How often do you see someone have an angry overreaction to a seemingly minor situation, such as getting served the wrong sandwich, or being stuck at a red light?
Here's another question: How often has this person been you? Let's be honest: No one is completely innocent here.
Why do we do this at times?
We all carry a significant amount of tension, with much of it lurking below the conscious level. A knee-jerk overreaction to a minor inconvenience is usually not about the situation at all; it's about something much deeper.
Let me give you two scenarios:
A. Suppose you felt that you had a very rough childhood. Your parents weren't supportive of you, you got dumped by the love of your life, and you never wound up getting your dream job. Friends betrayed you. Now, life feels dull and overwhelmingly stressful on a daily basis. While heading to work one morning, the barista puts half & half into your coffee instead of skim milk. How do you react?
B. Suppose you felt that you had enough in your life. Your parents did the best they could, you learned from your mistakes, and the betrayals in your life made you a stronger and more empathetic person. You have a place to live, food to eat, water to drink, and are in good health. You have great inventions all around you; perfected by other people over a number of years specifically to improve your quality of life. While heading to work one morning, the barista puts half & half into your coffee instead of skim milk. How do you react?
My point is that the reaction is not about the coffee. It's about the frame through which we view reality. It's about the story we tell ourselves about life.
When we feel grateful for having enough, little mistakes aren't a big deal at all. We drink the coffee happily anyway, and enjoy it as a little break from our normal routine. However, when we view reality as if the entire world is out to get us, the barista becomes part of the cruel plot that conspires to make our lives harder.
Here's something we may not have considered: Is it possible that the barista also didn't get her dream job, also feels overworked, also felt betrayed by people close to them, stayed up late taking care of her sick grandmother, and made a mistake because she were deprived of sleep? Perhaps she needs someone to cheer her up even more than we do right now.
The great news? You can be the one to do it. First, though, you need to feel those positive vibes before you'll be able to overflow with so many that it becomes contagious.
Here is an exercise to release decades worth of lingering stress and pain:
1. At the end of the day today, schedule in some alone time to unwind.
2. Make sure you're in a place where you feel safe, and will not be interrupted or feel judged by anyone.
3. Bring a pen and some paper.
4. Now, make a list of every single person who has ever hurt you in your entire life. Everyone. Think about everything that anyone has ever done to you that seemed unfair, and made you feel bad. Think back as far as you can, and just start writing names. Give yourself lots of time, so that you can be sure not to skip anything.
5. Now forgive each person.
6. Think about each and every one of those people, and wish them the best in life. Understand that the only way they would have hurt you was if they were in a bad place themselves.
7. Hope for them to find peace.
8. Let out all of the pent up emotion. Cry if you have to. We spend way too much time trying to look strong in front of the world, suppressing all of our pain, and this is what causes us to snap at people over petty things. Tears are a washing away of this ego, and they allow you to feel new again.
When you are all finished, crumble up the paper and throw it away. Allow it to represent a moment of closure. A moment to move on to what life has in store for you next.