The Stoic philosophers remind us that the universe doesn’t bend to our will. Yet it’s remarkable how angry and frustrated we can become when we subscribe to the irrational believe that it does.
How often does this happen to you? You’re driving across town, suddenly the traffic slows to a crawl, a trip that was only supposed to take 10 minutes now takes 30, and you are livid. Or you stop by the grocery on your way home from work. The store only has 2 registers open, and you stand in line fuming because it takes the store manager so long to call additional cashiers to the front.
What gets us into trouble is our believe that things should happen a certain way. We should be able to drive across town without getting stuck in traffic. We should be able to stop by the grocery on our way home from work and breeze in and out. But the traffic isn’t the thing that’s making us angry. Sometimes there’s traffic. We’re angry because we believe we should be able to drive where we want to go without being stuck in it. We’re not angry because there are not enough registers open. Sometimes there’s a rush of customers and things get backed up. We are angry because we believe we should be able to zip in and zip out of the store, if all we want is a gallon of milk.
The problem is not our external circumstance. The problem is our thoughts around those external circumstances; namely, that things should be a certain way.
What would happen if we did a better job of lining up our expectations with reality? Next time you’re angry because of the traffic, or because of some other external event in your life, ask yourself—does the world owe me this? Does the world owe me a traffic free commute or the ability to buy groceries without having to wait in line?
Of course not. The world doesn’t owe us anything. And the more we believe that it does, that the universe should bend to our will, the unhappier we tend to be.
Expecting everything to go my way (and to always be treated how I feel like I should be treated) is not only a recipe for misery, it is also a symptom of entitlement. When we feel entitled it’s really tough to feel gratitude. That’s because when we feel like we’re entitled to something, we tend to take it for granted. There’s no traffic on the way home, so what? You’re able to stop at the grocery and buy milk without waiting in line, no big deal. Isn’t that how things should be?
What would happen if we could live our lives feeling grateful for what the universe offers, instead of entitled to having things a certain way?
I admit, it’s tough to think about traffic as a gift. But when we’re stuck in traffic, if we can remind ourselves that we’re not entitled to have things a certain way, then it might become easier to experience other events in our lives for the gifts that they truly are. The meal that is prepared with the one you love after a hard day, the sunlight on your child’s hair—these are the kinds of things that the universe offers us every day. They are pure gift. And easier to be seen as such, when we we live less in the world of “should.”