A Little Happier: Sometimes, When We Understand Someone’s Perspective, Our Anger Fades

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In episode 321 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, Elizabeth and I interviewed writer and educator Julie Lythcott-Haims about her new book, Your Turn: How to Be an Adult (AmazonBookshop).

I read that book several weeks ago, and it includes a story that I keep returning to, and thinking about.

That’s because the story that Julie Lythcott-Haims relates is a terrific example of the fact that even when we’re experiencing a lot of anger, resentment, or frustration toward another person, sometimes, when we’re able to see things from that person’s perspective, our own feelings can change dramatically.

I love it when someone has the right thing to say; being able to give someone a new perspective, to give someone a deeper understanding that allows them to put aside negative emotions, is one of the most helpful ways to have the right words.

In the book, Julie Lythcott-Haims describes a difficult conversation she had with her mother during the pandemic’s safer-at-home period.

Their family spent that time at home together: Julie, her husband Dan, her 81-year-old mother, and her two kids.

It was a year into this stuck-at-home time, and one day, her mother angrily complained that she’d seen family members only three times in the past two weeks.

But Julie knew that she and her mother had seen each other at least twenty times in the last two weeks—and she knew that because, despite all her other responsibilities, she’d made a special point to stop by her mother’s cottage every day, to say hi or check in.

Julie describes her mix of emotions as she listened to her mother—she felt angry and unappreciated, and she also wondered whether she had to worry about her mother’s memory.

Julie told her eighteen-year-old daughter Avery about this. The grandchildren call their grandmother “Gaga,” and Avery said, “Mom, I think maybe both you and Gaga are right.” She explained, “You know you check in with Gaga daily. You make the effort every single time. I see that. But to Gaga, it’s not a real visit unless you sit down for at least forty-five minutes and she offers you a beverage.”

And with this observation, Julie thought, “Crystal clear. Gol darn if this kid wasn’t 100 percent right. I was relieved and was able to cool down almost instantly.”

She understood why she and her mother saw the same situation so differently—and she saw how they could fix it. She explains, “From that day forward, I’ve tried to show up to be what my mother needs and deserves, which means I’ve had an eight a.m. coffee date with my mom on her front stoop every weekday (I sleep in on weekends!).” And she made sure to tell her daughter Avery how much she appreciated that insight.

It’s so easy to get locked into arguments about who’s right and who’s wrong, and who did what.

Sometimes, even when the facts don’t change, we feel differently about those facts, because we understand someone else’s point of view.

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