We all get angry from time-to-time. Sometimes our anger is righteous, that is to say it is justifiable and other times without valid cause. For instance, imagine your child is late returning from an evening basketball game. He does not call to let you know that the game went into overtime.  You’re unable to reach him and become fearful that something awful may have happened to him. It was also agreed upon that he would call if he was going to be late. Your trust has been violated in addition to the fact that you are frantic (fear: a root cause of anger). Most would agree that anger under these circumstances is an appropriate response.

An unjustifiable cause of anger can occur when we have unfair expectations of others. For example: we expect that every family member share equally in the care of their elderly parents. If the majority of the burden falls upon one member for whatever reason, that person may become irate and resentful of the others. However, perhaps the others are not logistically able to assist equally. Or their relationship may not be as strong as the primary caregiver, thereby dictating to them that their obligations are not as compulsory. To expect that others share the same values, commitment or goals as we do is unrealistic. Unmet expectations lead to anger and bitterness.

I’ve found myself in the latter situation. As my parents aged, they needed more care. However, the sibling who lived closest to them supplied sporadic care at best. I chose to put aside a minimum of one day every week to be with them, caring for whatever needs they had at each stage in their life. Over the course of twenty years, their needs increased and at times I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. I had to make a choice: I could be mad at the other sibling for not being more helpful or I could be sad that she was missing such a wonderful opportunity to care for two of the most loving parents ever created. I chose to feel sad for her rather than mad. Anger is judgmental and poses a threat to my emotional and physical well-being as well as interfering with my ability to live a serene life. Sadness, on the other hand, does neither.  As long as I do not allow it to consume me, being sad can soften my heart with compassion towards her and prevents bitterness from manifesting.

The second alternative is to be glad. While this might sound like an unusual substitution for being angry, it is a very valid one. Regardless of life’s circumstances, I am always given the opportunity to be joyful. I can view this perceived imbalance of responsibility as a chance for me to learn to be more understanding, patient, kind, forgiving, respectful, and non judgmental. After, who am I to demand like attitudes or behaviors from anyone? Who am I to impose my way on another? I am here to do what I believe to be right; to do what God expects me to do; to follow my heart and my life’s path. My sibling is not on the same journey as I and I must respect her right to do what she needs to do. In this regard, I can find appreciation and happiness in an opportunity to further my spiritual development.

One is always free to change how they feel simply by refocusing their attention in a different manner. I can focus on what I am unhappy about, I can judge and label the other party, I can claim that the situation is unfair and imbalanced, and I can also choose to feel angry and sorry for myself. Or I can view the other person from a place of sadness that they are unaware of what they are missing out on; that they are misguided or resistant to embracing a powerful spiritual opportunity; that they are not fully living from a place of love and generosity as they appear to be more consumed with their own lives than that of their parents. Changing my thought process, my internal dialogue – what I say to myself about them and the situation – allows me to avoid the anger that comes from judgment and replace it with compassion that arises out of sadness for their misguided actions. I can then refocus my thoughts on the valuable lessons I’ve just acquired, the spiritual growth spurt I’ve enjoyed, and the many blessings surrounding me that I am forever grateful for.

Mad, sad or glad: the choice is yours. Choose your thoughts; choose your feelings. It’s entirely up to you.