“Those who are free of resentful thoughts surely find peace.” ~Buddha
Life is short. Time spent feeling angry or resentful about things that happened or didn’t happen is time squandered.
What’s that? You think those feelings motivate you and help you get things done? Hogwash! If you’re honest with yourself, you realize getting things done isn’t the end goal. The goal is to feel fulfilled and happy.
Accomplishments fueled by resentment and anger seldom contribute to serenity and fulfillment. More importantly, the moments you spent crossing things off your to-do list with a scowl slip away without giving you anything positive. They’re gone; never to return.
Resentment is like a cancer that eats away at time—time which could have been filled with love and joy.
Here are four powerful tips to reduce resentments and live a happier life.
1. Think loving thoughts for the person you resent.
You’re probably thinking, “You can’t be serious.” Hear me out.
What’s the opposite of anger, hate, or fear? That’s right: love. By sending only love toward someone, praying that they receive all the wonderful things you want for yourself in life, you’re slowly chiseling away at negative emotions that do you more harm than good. Don’t believe me? Try it.
Whether or not you believe in prayer, you can still set aside time during the day to think loving thoughts about someone you resent, wishing them good fortune and blessings. Say it out loud, “God/Buddha/Creator/Universe/Door Knob/etc.: please give love, health and peace to Lisa today.”
At first it will most likely feel awkward and meaningless, not to mention difficult. It may take weeks, months, or even years, but eventually you’ll notice where there were once ill feelings, now there is peace and love. And that you start actually meaning it!
A good rule of thumb for this exercise is trying it every day for at least for fourteen days.
2. Check your motives and expectations.
The best way to eliminate resentment is not to set yourself up for it.
For example, think about when people ask you to do things for them. You probably form expectations about what they’ll do for you in return. If there’s a hint of what’s in it for me, chances are you’re headed for some resentment.
This can be difficult to assess before taking action. If a friend is moving (again) and asks for your help (again) maybe you’re thinking to yourself “I better help because I know I’ll need it when I move next year.”
Next year when you move what happens if your friend doesn’t show up? Booyah!
When you give without expectations—only when you’re comfortable giving for the sake of it—you’re less likely to resent people for letting you down.
3. Be grateful.
A heart that is full of gratitude has little room for conceits or resentment. I utilize something called a gratitude list. Whenever I’m feeling stressed, resentful, or angry, I put pen to paper and write down at least ten things I’m grateful for in that particular moment.
It’s difficult to resent what you don’t have when you’re focusing your energy on what you do have.
4. Stay open to different outcomes.
The key to finding happiness is realizing that you already possess everything you need to be happy. When you realize happiness is an inside job, you’re less apt to place demands on other people and situations.
Reducing resentment takes practice and mindfulness. First, you have to become aware of how they manifest and why. A few summer’s ago I had the perfect opportunity to do just that.
I was looking forward to the first weekend my fiancé and I would get to enjoy our pool since we opened it for the summer. I had been thinking about this all week, planning to relax with a good book and soak up some rays.
Saturday morning came and we had to deliver a new paint sprayer to my fiancé’s son and his wife, who were preparing to paint their new home. Subconsciously, or maybe consciously, I knew a nice paint sprayer would save them time and ultimately get us out of having to help.
Upon arriving, we realized they’d already begun painting and didn’t want or need the sprayer. That’s okay I thought, at least we tried. Then out of no where my fiancé offered our help for the day! What was she doing? Didn’t she know the important commitment of lounging I had planned for today?
I could feel the resentment rising from deep inside as I visualized my lazy afternoon vanish into sweat and countless trips up and down a ladder. Being mindful, I recognized this and removed myself from the situation.
I found a quiet spot under a tree and sat to meditate for a minute. I asked for acceptance, guidance, and willingness, and sat there quietly and concentrated on my breathing. Then it came to me in a flash. It was simple and profound:
Years from now, what will I remember the most—the day I sat by the pool doing nothing or the day I helped my future stepson and his wife paint their house?
The choice was easy. The day turned out perfect, and I learned a powerful lesson about expectations. It’s okay to have them at times, but the ability to be happy and experience peace at any given moment is not contingent on how I expected an event to occur.
We all have the ability to manage expectations, change our state of mind, and ultimately be happy regardless of how we expect things will unfold.
Pretty cool and powerful I think.
This post was originally published in 2010. Photo by flickoholic