On Frustration

I aspire to equanimity. To calm acceptance, gratitude and understanding. This is often harder than I think it should be. I’m frequently frustrated or annoyed or irritated by the actions or inactions of others. Even from people and environments I have known for years and decades. The source of frustration is unmet expectations. Reality simply isn’t conforming to my view of how things should be. Of course this is ridiculous. Reality and other people are under no such obligation. But that doesn’t make the problem go away.

Frustration is a low-level noise. It isn’t the fury of righteous indignation or the cacophony of rage. Just a hum at the edge of perception. Enough to distract you from your better self. The combination of little triggers and subtle irritations that add up over time. It sits just below the surface ready to rise up at the slightest violation.

There is some reframing to be done here. Frustration is an emotion. Like all emotions, it has a reason for being and that is to inform. To let you know that reality and your motivations / values are out of alignment. The point of the signal is to effect change so that your mind is better synchronized with the circumstances. You can change reality or you can change yourself. Which will be easier depends on the context.

I admit to having high expectations for myself. Sometimes I meet them, sometimes I don’t. Even then I get frustrated, so it’s not as if I exempt myself. Even so, other people often annoy me to varying degrees. Perhaps I’m not properly interpreting their actions so I don’t understand them. Perhaps my expectations are simply unreasonable. Perhaps any expectations are unreasonable. I’ve heard it said that the secret to happiness is low expectations. Maybe it’s actually no expectations.

What if every cynic was once an optimist with high expectations? I don’t find that difficult to believe (though universal statements which use the word ‘every’ are suspect). To be cynical is a choice, and perhaps not a good one. Sure, other people will disappoint and frustrate us at times, but if you expect the worst it’s easy to find. Expect something better and your mode of interaction changes and the world might meet you part way there because you’re bringing something to the equation.

I’ve found that I’m not going to let go of my expectations, not for myself anyway. Striving is too important. So long as they are not unreasonable expectations and they move me forward then they are working. Expectations for others and the world, I try not to have. This is impossible, but worth trying nonetheless. Instead, I aspire for a sense of openness to experience. Somewhere on the edge of hope where you can bring a bit of magic to create great interactions but not be disappointed or frustrated in the ultimate outcome. Because life is both struggle and magic, and what you look for often defines what you see.

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