A new perspective for handling setbacks

With this new perspective on handling setbacks, multiply the happiness in your life!

A tale of two bowls

I was having my dinner at a ramen restaurant. A group of two friends rushed in, looking very hungry. The waiter that took their order was the same one that took mine: she was young and inexperienced, and often asked you to repeat your order.

15 minutes passed, and their order still had not arrived. I could see them growing increasingly impatient, silently wishing they’d picked somewhere else to fill their hunger instead of this place.

After another 10 minutes, their food finally came. Two bowls of ramen, with glistening red broth and a hearty amount of toppings. They looked so satisfied that I was sure they would wolf it down in an instant. However, the first customer looked rather puzzled.

“Excuse me,” he gestured to the waiter. “I thought I said quite clearly that I don’t want the spicy sauce. It looks like my ramen is the spicy one. Did you mess up my order?”

“Oh. I’m so sorry!” The waiter stammered, beads of sweat forming on her forehead. “I must have heard wrongly. I will get the correct one immediately.”

She picked up the incorrect bowl and clumsily walked back to the kitchen. The customer sighed and looked quite disappointed that he had to wait even longer to get his meal.

Minutes later, she emerged with the correct order. “I’m very sorry,” she repeated to the customer. “It’s my first week here, and there’s a lot to take in. I’m so sorry that you had to wait so long for your order, and — “

“It’s alright,” he cut her off with a smile. “You must have had a busy day, and it’s not any easier when this is your first week on the job. Take things one step at a time.”

The waiter bowed profusely and walked away. “Wow,” His friend spoke up. “How were you so calm? Are you not angry?”

“Of course I am,” he replied. “But if I let out my anger on somebody else, wouldn’t that mean there will be two upset people in this world? Better to stay calm, and do whatever I can to control the situation.”

He turned to his noodles and tucked in.

The way to respond to setbacks

When setbacks come our way, how do we respond to them? Some people might immediately start complaining and comparing, pointing to the unfairness of the world that has resulted in their cruel situation. Others, like this customer, will look for ways to control the situation and make the best out of it.

Like it or not, setbacks are a part of life. And, most of the time, these setbacks are caused by other people. Often they do so with no intention to harm you, like in this case where a new waiter gets an order wrong. Or consider the situation where a driver swerves to avoid an obstacle, avoiding a setback for himself, but also causes you to swerve out of his way and instead you crash your vehicle, thereby setting you back financially and perhaps medically.

In either case, we have to realize that setbacks can be contagious.

One person’s misfortune can easily be the source of a bad day for five other people. Imagine what would’ve happened if this customer got mad at the waiter, perhaps getting the store manager involved? With social media, such an ‘incident’ can easily be posted online, causing hundreds of other people to react.

A change in perspective

Image by Franck V on Unsplash

However, whenever we feel angry that someone has set us back, it is helpful to remember that although other people are responsible for many of the setbacks we experience, we are likewise responsible for many of theirs! Yes, we might find these setbacks annoying, but maybe — just maybe — they find us annoying as well.

This fact is incredibly easy to forget, given that we are more acutely aware of the problems that other people cause us, rather than the problems we cause to others.

These setbacks are a lot like ripples in a bowl of soup: a single spark of anger has the potential to cause a chain reaction that creates even more frustration. On the flipside, a small sign of kindness can also grow into a wave of happiness.

Seneca, a Roman philosopher, once wrote:

“We are bad men living among bad men, and only one thing can calm us — we must agree to go easy on one another.”

Seneca, “On Anger”, III (Book 3), III.26(4) 

In this world we live in, setbacks are inevitable. Anger is a natural, if not reasonable response to many of these situations. However, knowing what we know now, do we continue to multiply the negative emotions in this world? Or do we find ways where we can control situations to add happiness to our — and other people’s — lives?

Which will you choose?

BlankSlate Counselling is here to help anyone experiencing mental health issues. We believe that with care and trusted support, we can build a thriving population that supports mental health in Singapore.

Give us a call at 6698 5198, or send us a message today.

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