Gretchen Rubin

Do you ever suffer an uncontrollable urge to criticize someone?

I’ve been having some unkind thoughts lately. A few people have crossed my path who have inspired me with a terrific desire to gossip about them, to talk about their faults.

So far, I’ve resisted, but I can feel my resolve crumbling.

It’s not nice to talk trash about other people – even to say accurate things. These aren’t situations where discussing their faults could lead to any kind of improvement. It would just be satisfying for me.

Now, if I had the greatness of soul to emulate St. Thérèse of Lisieux, I would try hard to feel love for these folks. One of my favorite St. Thérèse stories is that in the convent, Thérèse disliked intensely one of her fellow nuns, confusingly named Teresa of Saint Augustine. In her spiritual memoir, Story of a Soul, Thérèse described this fellow nun as “a Sister who has the faculty of displeasing me in everything, in her ways, her words, her character.” But instead of avoiding her, Thérèse sought out this nun at every turn and treated her “as if I loved her best of all” – so successfully that the sister once smugly asked Thérèse, “Would you tell me…what attracts you so much toward me; every time you look at me, I see your smile?” After Thérèse’s death, the disagreeable nun said with great complacency, “At least I can say this much for myself: during her life I made [Thérèse] really happy.”

Teresa of Saint Augustine never suspected that she was the disagreeable sister described in Story of a Soul until thirty years later, when the chaplain, in a fit of exasperation, told her the truth.

But I’m not around these people often enough to be dear friends with them, even if I could muster up the love.

But I will not to gossip about them! My lips are sealed! I’m not going to say a word!

If I can’t feel the love, I can change the subject.

One concrete cause of unhappiness is rumination. Studies show that by dwelling on irritating feelings and episodes, you amplify their power in your mind. So after I write this post, I won’t allow myself to think about these annoyances anymore.

I wrote this post but delayed posting it, so if you happen to know me, and you saw me recently, and you worry that you’re one of the people described, don’t worry, you’re not. Anyway, it wouldn’t occur to these people that anyone might find them annoying – which is part of what makes them annoying.

Look! I did it! I said something critical, right there. It just slipped out. Zoikes, I’ve got to change the subject NOW.

I'm a big fan of the blog Get Rich Slowly, which I got to know through LifeRemix. It's about being frugal, which might not strike everyone as a fun endeavor, but this site really makes it seem a) possible and b) interesting to spend money more wisely.

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