Under-React to a Problem.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

I have hundreds of resolutions for my happiness project, and I love hearing other people’s ideas for resolutions — which is one reason I’m addicted to checking out the Happiness Project Toolbox. I’ve adopted several resolutions that I’ve read there, including one of my new favorites: “Choose the bigger life.”

Another great new resolution was suggested to me by a reader who’s blogging about her experience on a ship doing research in Antarctica. Their research leader urged them to “Under-react to problems.” Note that this resolution doesn’t suggest ignoring or minimizing problems – just under-reacting to them.

I had reason to think about this resolution a few nights ago. I confronted a problem, and I reacted in a big way. I wouldn’t say that I over-reacted, but I definitely reacted a lot. And even in the moment, it was clear to me that having a violent reaction wasn’t helping – me or anyone else involved.

So I took a deep breath and calmed myself. I acted the way I wanted to feel. I tried to under-react. And I felt better, and the problem suddenly seemed less onerous.

This frame of mind helps me stay calm, keep a sense of humor, and keep a sense of proportion. I associate this phlegmatic sensibility with the British, as when Winston Churchill remarked, after being asked about possible invasion: “My technical advisers were of opinion that the best method of dealing with invasion of the island of Britain was to drown as many as possible on the way over and knock the others on the head as they crawled ashore.”

I mentioned this resolution to a friend, and he said he’d just “under-reacted to a problem” himself. He’d needed a new kind of special camera for his home-office computer, and when he went to buy it, he discovered that it cost about twice as much as he’d intended to spend. He said he stood in the aisle and deliberately forced himself to stay calm, to debate whether he really needed the camera, and not to let himself get worked up with annoyance.

A big birthday. Late work reports. Mislaid homework. Stolen parking spots. Life is full of opportunities for under-reaction – or over-reaction.

Do you think it helps to under-react to a problem?

* 2010 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2010 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year, this month’s focus is Energy. Last week’s resolution was to Toss and organize. Did you try to follow that resolution? Did it help to boost your happiness?

This week’s resolution is to Tackle a nagging task.

(I had to re-load the video, because there was a mistake in the title card — so to the 2,800 of you who saw the wrong version, it’s now fixed!)

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
Need a simple and effective way to get your life under control? Try the one-minute rule.
2010 Happiness Challenge (or watch the intro video). It’s never too late to start! You’re not behind, jump in right now, sign up here. For more ideas, check out the Happiness Project site on Woman’s Day.

* I was thrilled to be included in Gimundo’s list of 25 amazing websites and online resources for inspiration, positivity, and more.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Lisa Canning

    Wow. This updated and appeared while I was reading other stuff…and it’s perfect for me today. I have been away, but am back!! Big fan of this project, thanks so much Gretchen.

  • jenny

    “Do you think it helps to under-react to a problem?”

    (When I can remember to do it), it really helps me deal with my children in many different scenarios, and it ESPECIALLY helps in dealing with my teenager. 🙂 Having a good relationship with your teenager= happiness.

  • Gretchen, I am a huge fan of your Happiness Project. I am telling everyone about it and recently did a post on my floral lifestyle blog about it (www.1800flowers.com/julie). I have a new grand daughter, Juliette and feel lucky to have already learned the “the days are long but the years are short” lesson. I couldn’t wait to share your video with my daughter who as a new mom can get a bit overwhelmed by it all. I felt like the video was very personal for other reasons too. We have a chocolate lab just like the one in the video and I recently started taking a series of photographs of Juliette’s hands with her great-grandma’s, grandpa’s, mom’s etc.
    Thank you for sharing your life lessons on being happy with all of us. Keep up the good work!!

  • Tracey

    This is a great one that I used today without even knowing it. My husband said, “If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be _____” (relatively minor sacrifice he’s making) . Which really pissed me off. I wanted to react with “Well, if weren’t for you I wouldn’t be _____, ____, and _____” (relatively large sacrifices I’ve made for him recently.” But I realized that he probably didn’t mean it as nasty as sounded, and that flipping out like that would just decrease the chances of him doing what I wanted him to do and increase his resentment of the situation. And also, he KNOWS the sacrifices I’ve made and bringing them up in that context would only make him feel bad about it and increase everyone’s resentment.

    So I ignored the comment, tried to focus on the positive (the good things his sacrifice would bring in the future), vented to a close friend, and then let it god. Definitely made for a better day all around.

  • Sandy

    Always helps to under react. Especially with kids. I overreacted way too many times with my first son as a teenager and with the last two I just went with the flow and didn’t get too upset about anything – luckily nothing was life changing. I need to remember this daily though even now that the kids are gone, it still applies. Yesterday I was really, really down with the gloomy January weather and feeling like my world would never be bright again. That was over reacting and I can apply that principle when life gets me down.

  • Gretchen,

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote, “I acted the way I wanted to feel.” That statement is so powerful. If we would just do that in all situations, particularly in our relationships where we don’t “feel the way we used to.” If you start acting the way you want to feel, then those feelings will return.

    Thanks so much for these great articles!


  • dianalane

    I rarely regret under-reacting and ofter regret over-reacting.

    • Mary

      Isn’t that the absolute truth!

    • AquamarineMariana

      Yes! I alwasy feel the same.

  • Oh I like that, Gretchen. Under-react. I’ve experienced this before as just letting it flow off of me. What’s that saying? Like water off a duck’s back? Something like that. Whatever we call it, I think under-reacting saves us from a lot of needless drama. Thanks for this. And for sharing your personal story. That’s one of the things I love most about your blog and your writing.

  • Angela

    Thanks for boiling down for me in a single word that timeless message I need to live on a daily basis. And now that the message is in a single word, it may come to mind easier at the times when I most need it.

  • Guest

    This is such a great observation. Under-reacting is really one of life’s many great tools. It is a skill taught to me by my very wise husband. My husband and I just had a house built and it was a very major project. If I learned anything this past year it is that, everything generally works out in good time and under- reacting really pays off. People appreciate you putting things into perspective and allowing for things to be sorted out and fixed or even just allowing for the dust to settle. It also helps in dealing with my teenage son. Sometimes I don’t react at all, I just say “I don’t really know how I feel about this let me think about it.” It really makes my son feel more comfortable approaching me and he has learned to really try to under-react himself. You are also correct it does not mean not reacting at all. It just allows you to pause and prepare a reaction so when it comes it is calm and well thought out. Sometimes you pause long enough to realize you don’t need to react at all. It isn’t always easy sometimes when you are tired, grumpy etc. to not just pop but it gets easier the more you practise. Thanks again for your wonderful uplifting blog.

  • Guest

    I think that under-reacting only helps people who naturally over-react. It is much harder to achieve anything if you don’t care about. You need some sort of motivation.

  • DavidL31

    I didn’t know under-reacting to a problem was even possible, but after reading this it actually makes some sense to me.

    And I have to say that the Happiness Challenge so far has done wonders. I finally have a regular sleep pattern, and I’d been struggling with that for years.

  • This is such a good point. It’s our inner landscape that matters more than our outer one. If each and every one of us found peace within, there would be peace without.

  • As a writer/performer, I tend to have a STRONG emotional life. So before I react with a meltdown, I try to take a deep breath and focus on feeling compassion for the person who’s ticking me off. I won’t say I’m always successful, but it sometimes helps. I just read somewhere that “it’s more important to be kind than right.” Since I’m always right, I’ll try to remember this.

  • I wish I had read this earlier today – I totally over-reacted to a situation that would have been better handled with an under-reaction. I’m going to try to remember next time that under-reacting is a totally valid approach!

  • jenergy

    This is a very timely post for me, because I’ve just adopted a new mantra to help me through an emotionally lively time: “lighten up”. And it totally helps!

  • I am a big over-reactor. I should try this and see if it works for me.

    My happiness level today is high: your book arrived at 6pm last night!!

  • After taking up daily meditation I find myself under reacting quite a lot nowadays. You find a silent space within from where you can react or just choose to ignore and you can pick the level of reaction. It’s great!

  • Jacqui

    As recognition for your excellent blogging, I have included your blog in my list of “10 blogs I like” here: http://www.upliftantidote.co.uk/wordpress/2010/01/10-blogs-i-like-aargh/ If you wish to participate, simply list 10 things that make you happy and pass on the award to 10 other blogs (or vlogs) that you like. Thanks for making the world a brighter place. Namaste.

  • Dena Dickinson

    Learned under-reacting as a horse-training concept (the ideal horse trainer is said to have the disposition of a sandbag), and have found that horse-training and child-rearing share many commonalities.

  • Great Project and book! I was referred to you by another blogger. I am writing a book called Lessons from the Monk I Married and have a blog on Blogspot by the same title. Right now I’m writing 365 Lessons for 2010. They are uplifting and inspiring. That’s my happiness project. Hope we can all share the love and peace. Love what you are doing here!

  • I don’t agree. There are a lot of times when we under react when we should over-react: like when someone takes advantage of us or some injustice is going on. Very often crimes take place in broad daylight…. because everyone under-reacts. We under-react to corruption, racism, sexist boss, harmful chemicals in baby products… I wish we as a society got more hot and bothered about stuff.

    • minus

      I agree that sometimes we should overreact (or at least react) and that society tends to stay silent about too many important issues. But when it comes to lesser issues that will disappear very soon after the overreaction, it’s probably best to underreact because then the minor issue does not become major. When I overreact (to, for example, someone cutting me off while walking/driving/talking, to dropping a plate, to forgetting to bring an umbrella on a rainy day, etc), I will feel my blood pressure rise and that tells me I am doing a great disservice to my health – when I really don’t need to. Underreacting and taking deep breathes allows it to pass without harming anyone, including myself.

  • I love this one, Gretchen. I practiced it twice yesterday but was so astonished at how great it felt that I blurted out to my partner that I was, in fact, under-reacting! Not so smooth… and the opposite of under-reacting, I think. Then we watched an episode of “The Tudors” together and tried to spot all of the situations in which a character under-reacted; it was a great exercise. Thanks for this.

  • Encarni

    It definitely helps!! Even it´s a big problem, to under-react bring us the opportunity to think calm and cold minded.

  • In my mind underacting is a lot like keeping your head. you shove the emotional part of the problem off to the side that way you can get it solved then deal with your reaction latter when you have time.

  • Jon P

    It’s true that we can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it. Or, at least we can attempt to control how we react to it. It’s funny how the people closest to us know exactly which buttons to push in order to get the maximum reaction.

    If you believe that this is one of a thousand lifetimes we will live, then how can one little incident be something to get worked up about in the scheme of things? On the other hand, if you think the concept of reincarnation is a bunch of crap, then why spend this limited, precious time you have sweating the small stuff?

    I like the way Led Zepplin puts it: If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now…

  • Bruce Lee said something to the effect of, “Don’t give in to emotion. Emotion is the enemy.” I suspect he meant that, while we should still experience them, emotions can be transient things and we should think through the consequences before we (re)act.

  • Excellent post! I always delay things and forget. Actually, I’m delaying now by writing this…

  • Watch out for under-reacting, though. You can get too good at it. When a good friend tells you something terrible, a reaction is expected.

    • Susan

      Your last name, Mike isn’t Dukakis is it? (I’m remembering Bernard Shaw’s question about the death penalty–one time when under-reacting turned out to be a disaster.)

       I think “just right” reacting is best…we like calm, quiet leadership as well as inspirational, charasmatic & passionate leadership too.  
      Bottom line:  No one appreciates being yelled at– unless it’s to get out of a burning building. 

  • AquamarineMariana

    A perfect truth at a perfect time.

  • triciafitz2008

    Gretchen, I took your advice and tackled a couple of nagging tasks. I do feel more energetic! Thanks for the great tip.

  • Hi Gretchen

    I think your book, blog and videos are great. I have written about you in my latest blog about health, happiness and success at SuperLiving at http://www.superliving.co.uk/blog/2010/01/26/the-happiness-project/

    Best wishes, Colin

  • pamwalter

    I think under-reacting is ganerally preferable to over-reacting, since we often do the latter without having all the facts and frequently have to backpeddle and apologize. I have been practicing under-reacting for some time and have found that things generally work out better.

  • k1r1h1t0k1r1

    I find it’s only good sometimes to under-react. Other times, my real reaction ferments and later explodes all over something that isn’t even a problem–until I react to it like it is one… I think under-reacting is only good as long as you can resolve the problem to your satisfaction in the end, and before moving on to another situation.

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