Frustration and Happiness

Exploring Happiness Blog - Frustration and Happiness

Today I’m sharing my reflections on frustration. Frustration falls under the category of negative emotions. It’s on the scale with anger – a less aggressive form of anger. Frustration gets us into the tunnel view, letting us think that we are not good or supported enough.

So, let’s deconstruct that a bit and find how we can use frustration to increase our happiness. I know that sounds a bit crazy but hear me out.

All emotions are signals. Frustration signals that something is not going according to plan. Now, when does anything ever go according to plan? Yep, that’s why many of us are frustrated a lot.

Let’s say you have a long to-do-list and you quickly want to pop into the post office. The queue isn’t long. But then the person just in front of you takes ages. Your time slot to get all the to-dos from your list done gets smaller and smaller. Your frustration levels are rising. You might even get stressed because you wanted to tick off list items so badly.

Find the pattern

I can now suggest that you take some deep breaths and relax because the world isn’t going to stop when the list items are not ticked off. Yes, that’s a great idea. But also, think about why you are frustrated. If that person in the post office would have been quicker, you could have ticked off more list items. Now think back to a day earlier when you got frustrated because a colleague didn’t deliver their part in a project quickly enough. And a day before that when the kids got too late out of the house and you couldn’t run that errand before work… there is a pattern, right?

Frustration shows that we need to reconsider our priorities. Is it so important to tick off all the to-do items to allow frustration to turn into stress? Is it so important to put the project together to possibly snap at the colleague? Is it so important to run that errand to… well, snap at the kids?

Instead, see frustration for what it is. It’s an alarm bell saying that your plan is now off and you have to make adjustments. Done? When you realised the guy in the post office would take longer, you quickly deleted two to-dos from the list, re-routed your plan and are back on track? Great. Negative emotion resolved, processed and stress avoided. Happiness levels are rising.

Bigger picture of frustration

Now let’s bring this into a bigger picture. One of my readers shared ​The Marginalian​ with me in which Maria writes about self-revision. She quotes psychoanalyst ​Adam Phillips​ and his writing on ​why frustration is necessary for satisfaction in love​:

Our frustration is the key to our desire; to want something or someone is to feel their absence; so to register or recognize a lack would seem to be the precondition for any kind of pleasure or satisfaction. Indeed, in this account, frustration, a sense of lack, is the necessary precondition for any kind of satisfaction. […]

The traditional story about lack and desire describes a closed system; in this story I can never be surprised by what I want, because somewhere in myself I already know what is missing; my frustration is the form my recognition takes, it is a form of remembering.

I like how frustration shows him that something or someone is important but he’s off track getting what he wants/desires. Frustration acts here as an indicator of what is important and where to invest rather than pursuing other ventures. The more frustrated we become, the clearer it is that we love/desire what we are pursuing. But instead of driving ourselves insane in a circle of frustration and desire, I suggest breaking out and recognising that frustration only shows us the importance of whatever we desire. Knowing that provides clarity so that we can drop less important ventures and tap into our abundance mindset to follow our desire.

How does this apply to the rising frustration in the post office? It’s not because we love buying stamps. It’s more because we want to tick off to-dos. The question is if that is even worth the frustration. What do those to-dos stand for that they are so important to us? Maybe they must be ticked off so that we can work on our dreams? Maybe they must be ticked off to show how much we contribute and achieve? Do they give us meaning?

What do you think?