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#44 An underrated source of happiness

The best way to figure out who someone really is, is to find out what upsets them.

I’ve had to rethink friendships with people who are rude to waiters. We’re all deeply unsettled when someone shouts or gets irrationally annoyed at children. I’ve spent a lot of time recently both wondering just why this is, and why it affects me so much.

Beyond the simple rudeness, power-play and discomfort it causes for everyone (I’m not minimising this), I’ve been trying to probe further into just why I find it so unacceptable and what it might teach me about myself.

What causes us upset are the exact same things we care about, and analysing what drives us over the edge can teach us so much about who we are.

My theory is that it’s a sense of entitlement, a care for power and superiority over others and a strong desire to protect this dynamic that drives the friend to angrily snap at a waiter when they were happily laughing with you 2 minutes ago.

Therefore, when I decide I no longer want to be around this person, it’s not (only) for the unacceptable behaviour, but it’s for what they’ve shown me about themselves: their care for superiority is what makes me even more uncomfortable with their presence.

I’ve been starting to think about what causes me upset: both things that anger and make me sad. The list of things like rejection, abandonment, loss, being put down - they all scream of a girl who’s actually a bit insecure in herself and her position in the world. And so I’m addressing this.

I’ve found that disempowering the things I value that cause me pain is such an effective way to be happier and less upset. If I’m often in pain from the same thing that matters to me being threatened, I reconsider whether it matters to me as much as I think it does.

What is the real risk of rejection? What is the true value of acceptance? What is acceptance really? What does it look like? Is it actually being threatened when I think it is? What would happen if I never had it? Do I really care about it as much as I think I do?

Removing the obstacles to my joy often looks like removing sources of joy I think I’m being denied. And it’s a great cure of self-righteousness to observe what exactly causes me upset as I often find I’m much less enlightened as I think I am, and a lot closer to what I dislike in others than I’m comfortable admitting.

There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead and when she was good she was criticised anyway. — -Elan Golomb, with Readwise



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