Where does stress come from?

From a Carolyn Hax column in the Washington Post: “Stop worrying about pleasing a pair of big egos”

I think we all recoil from negativity. However, so much stress comes not from events themselves but instead from the gaps between what we want to happen and what actually does. It’s not easy to break the habit of wanting something from others or experiences or ourselves — far from it — but it is possible. It just requires you to identify what you’re hoping will happen, and recognize that other outcomes will be okay, too, and sometimes even better. It takes staring down your worst case and knowing you’ll find ways to manage if it comes true.

Columnist Carolyn Hax is not a declared Buddhist, but often writes with a wisdom that is deep and resonant. Her columns are in response to questions asked by various people (usually American), and her answers are made with full consideration of all the human beings who might be affected.

The paragraph above is from a recent Q&A and addresses a subject we’ve been looking at: how our wants and expectations create our suffering. The particulars of the situation in this column may not be relevant for us, but the general principle is true and useful. If we are willing to recognize what we’re hoping for AND accept that this is only one possibility, then we can know and acknowledge that other outcomes are possible.

When things don’t go our way, our disappointment will most likely be in proportion to our wishing. Hoping that someone we know who has a track record of acting in a particular way will act in a different way is a fool’s game. Why are we so reluctant to accept reality with all its flaws? Why do we often prefer our dream world to the world we’ve got?

We create stress for ourselves by thinking or saying: I don’t think I could bear it if X doesn’t happen, or if she does Y, or if I can’t accomplish Z. As my father once said to me, “You don’t know what you can cope with until it happens.” Usually, we are remarkably resourceful, and we only need to allow for the possibility of surprise.

It’s not easy to break the habit of wanting something from others or experiences or ourselves — far from it — but it is possible.

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Causes and results, Relationships. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Where does stress come from?

  1. I also find much wisdom in Carolyn Hax’s advice! And I could not agree more that expectations are a huge stress-producer. This has always been particularly true for me in regards to holidays, like Mother’s Day or Christmas. My expectations for how things “should” be in order for the holiday to be a “success” so often clash with reality, meaning that I set myself up for failure before anything even happens. Only through becoming aware of this habitual pattern and working to change my thought process in the moment to drop expectations am I starting to change how I experience these events.

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