What happens is not as important as how you feel about what happens

This afternoon I bought an iPhone5. I was forced into it. Our new iPhone app goes into testing this evening, and it won’t play on my aging iPhone2.

Parting with my money was not as easy as expected. Over and over, I heard the Apple Store greeter tell people that four or five others were ahead of them and that they would have to wait 20 or 30 minutes to talk with a sales person. I scored a coupon at the Genius Bar and went to the head of the line.

Isaac had my new phone in hand and looked up my carrier account. “Uh oh. ATT says you owe them money. I can’t sell you the phone.” My wife Uta pays the bills in our house. In fact, exactly the same thing had happened when I bought the iPhone2 several years ago. I was livid. I believe in paying bills before they are due; she promised to do likewise. She clearly hadn’t.

Knowing that Uta was shopping, I went off to find her.

If this had happened last month, I would have blown a fuse.

I can picture myself swearing under my breath at her stupid bill paying practices, at ATT (I’ve been a customer for half a century yet they don’t trust me yet), and at the world for wasting my time and throwing obstacles in my path. Scowl, anger, get out of my way, rage. I would have concocted some snarky way to tell Uta that her negligence was sabotaging my new business. Essentially, I would have let the dark side take control of me.

That didn’t happen. My three-month study of well-being and happiness has convinced me that it’s not events that give rise to emotions, it’s how we interpret them.

I took a deep breath. I told myself that negative emotions weren’t going to do me or anyone else any good. My feelings weren’t a logical reaction to my wife or Apple or ATT. It was my knee-jerk emotional brain pulling up an inappropriate script for running from tigers or throwing rocks at them. System 1 was trying to hijack my brain. That wouldn’t get me very far at the Apple Store or with Uta.

All that had happened is that I’d been delayed in buying a computer that would have cost more than $20 million when I was a college student — if it had been available then — for about $250 out of pocket. I should be happy as a clam. I decided I would be.

Uta and I had a wonderful lunch at O Chamé, my favorite restaurant in this food-obsessed town. I smiled and said the craziest thing had happened. After lunch, she’d have to accompany me back to the Apple Store. We looked up ATT and paid them off over the phone. No negativity. She returned to shopping.

Another Apple sales person brought out the iPhone and we started going through the process again. Whoops. Only my wife and son are authorized to use our ATT account. Uta would have to come back to the store. I found her and asked why I’m not authorized to talk with ATT. She said I’d never asked. Okay, no problem. Again, I’m proud to say, I kept a lid on it. That’s out of character for me. Besides, I should be happy to be spared dealing with ATT financially.

Today’s experience taught me a lesson I knew intellectually but hadn’t added to my default behaviors. This one will stick: it feels great to be in control of my emotions.

Relationships fall apart when positive interactions don’t exceed negative ones by at least three to one. Marriages require five to one. I’m happy I have more self-control than I used to.





Leave a Reply