Monday Musings…. The Pursuit of Unhappiness

You can sense it as you stand 6 feet behind the person ahead of you, waiting to go into the grocery store. You can feel it as the queue to pay for your items goes 60 feet around the bend to the dairy aisle. You hear it, as customers murmur about the inconvenience of spending 60 more minutes of their day purchasing their treasure trove of supplies. You see it on the faces of the unforgiving patrons who glare at the single mother who had no choice but to bring her busy six-year-old to grab their essentials for the week.

We’ve got a new mutation of the virus called the covid crankies! It’s not just aging men’s hair that's thinning, it’s people’s patience. And what’s grown in its place, is an incredibly argumentative attitude.

It seems that with the more time people have on their hands, whether that’s while waiting in a line, or surfing the web at home, it’s fanned the flames of irritation about who or what irks them. There’ve always been internet trolls spewing negative comments on a person’s post or YouTube video, but now we have the covid crankies in our neighbourhoods and marketplaces whose judgmental and resentful spirits are bent on spreading negativity to whoever is within ear shot.

The other day I biked to the hardware store to pick something up, and in the parking lot were two F150s waiting for their curbside pickup as well. I rode up in time to see a friendly young staff member discussing parts to build a clothesline (great energy saving idea by the way) with a patron. She quickly scurried back into the blocked-off building to see if they had his supplies. She returned rather quickly, and cheerfully chimed to the other customer that she’d place her purchase on the ground, and be right back with the thingamabobs for the clothesline for the man who had asked. As soon as the girl was gone, the woman approached her parcel, picked it up, and began to pout and protest with profanity while pontificating about this “pointless political agenda” that was preventing her from enjoying her former pursuits of pleasure. She slammed the side door of her truck and squealed off down the road. The man and I stood in shock and then both agreed: “that’s one unhappy lady!”

Why are so many people unhappy? It’s so easy to blame the times we’re in now as the cause of people’s shameful talk and behaviour, but that’s letting them off too easy. We’re all affected right now by these circumstances, and yet we’re not all spewing venom at the slightest irritation. To find out the answer, we're going to have to dig a little deeper and do some soul searching.

So, here's a list of some sure-fire ways to pursue unhappiness:

1. Have a internal measuring stick that analyzes other people’s imperfections. There’ s something about us that is prone to find flaws in other people, while being willfully blind to our own. For some bizarre reason, we think this will make us feel better, perhaps even happy, that “at least I’m not doing X”. But we know this isn’t what happens. Instead, it increases a person’s seemingly insatiable desire for more evidence to back up their findings about said person, so they can continue to ruminate, even to the point of losing sleep, over their obsession of other people’s failings. The root of the unhappiness is not the other person; it’s the person's dissatisfaction with themselves that's actually projected onto others.

2. Focus on what we can’t control. When we’re stuck waiting in a line, or bigger yet, waiting to go back to work or school, it doesn’t do any good to complain. Our anger and irritation will not change the situation one bit. The root of the unhappiness is not lack of time or employment; it’s that we are bent by our own crooked nature that’s motivated by fear. In our individualistic culture, we don’t like being at the mercy of the lady directing us to the next available cashier. We don’t like not knowing if we will be getting a paycheck or not. We intensely dislike not being able to do our own thing.

3. We believe we are the experts. It’s as if we believe that if someone gave us the power, this whole situation would be over. Unhappy people are armchair critics who have all the answers about global warming, this covid crisis, how stores should really organize the curbside pick ups, and how single moms ought to raise their children. Unhappy people have a false sense of security in their own intellect or experience, but their pride won’t allow them to cut the government, the business, or the single mom any slack.

Having the covid crankies is, quite simply, exhausting. Headaches are caused from dwelling so much on things we ought not to, and the body aches permeate from the tension welling within us. We need to inoculate this before it spreads! It’s not our exposure to what’s going on “out there” that’s causing it though. No, the covid crankies has everything to do with what is going on in our minds.

The first step to recovery is to stop with the judgmental attitudes and be kind. We need to default to thinking the best about other people, instead of making negative assumptions. We truly don’t know what everyone is going through. So, when we find ourselves tempted to take a jab at someone, let’s heed the words: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5) Do we remember our child throwing temper tantrums at the most inconvenient time and place? Are we the perfect parent? We know the answer, so let's give that single mom some grace! In fact, let her go ahead of you in the line! Show kindness.

The second step, is to accept what we can’t control and make the best out of what we can. And what we can control is our reactions. We need to default to an attitude of gratitude, even in the midst of waiting, and especially during our current situation. Our fear, as I have blogged about before, needs to be replaced with trust and peace. And if we have those two things, we will quite easily be able to express thanks. I've made that a practice now with every store I go in – to thank the cashier for their service, for risking their health, for cleaning the conveyor belts and debit machines, so we can feel safe and equipped to feed our families. “Always seek to do good to one another and to everyone...give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 15-18)

And the last thing, at least for this blog post, is to be humble. Proverbs 21:2 tells us that “every way of a man is right in his own eyes” that is until that person gets sick, loses their job, or has to take their kid to the grocery store because there is no one to take care of them at home. The rest of that verse continues “but the Lord weighs the heart”. This unhappiness, that so many are feeling right now, is a sickness of the heart. And God, the great physician, is wanting to heal it, and make straight our crooked way of thinking. Let’s be honest and admit we are not the experts. There is only One who is. Humble yourself and release that irritation and those thoughts that corrupt the soul.

So, while we are all waiting for the vaccine for covid-19, let’s all take a teaspoon of the medicine called covid-compassion. If you read the label, you'll see the ingredients: kindness, gratitude, and humility. The known side effects are peace and joy. So, if we each take a dose of this medicine everyday, we’re sure to beat the covid-crankies in no time!

Country singer Thomas Rhett came out with this song a month ago featuring Chris Tomlin, Hilary Scott, Reba McIntyre and Keith Urban. It's message is clear that in times like these we can shine light in the darkness! Covid crankies - be gone!

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