Your friend never responded to your text. Another driver wouldn’t let you merge lanes. Your housemates didn’t invite you to dinner.
Incidents like these occur every day, and they’re usually things we have no control over. Nine times out of ten, our first reaction is to take offense. We assume it was a personal insult, a slap in the face intended to hurt us. We walk around feeling offended, and we can let it ruin our day or even our relationships. By ascribing bad intent to other people’s actions, we are making ourselves miserable.
In today’s digital world, taking things too personally is one of the quickest ways to drive yourself insane. Happy people do not ascribe bad intent to innocuous actions.
That friend who never responded to your text? She doesn’t hate you; she was probably just in class and couldn’t get to her phone.
That driver who wouldn’t let you merge lanes? He isn’t a jerk; he probably just didn’t see your car.
Those housemates who didn’t invite you to dinner? They’re not intentionally trying to exclude you; chances are the dinner was an unplanned, spur of the moment outing.
You see, by playing out the realistic intentions behind any scenario, you can talk yourself down from the edge. I am not an expert at this by any means. Ascribing intent is one of my main struggles in life. Perhaps it stems from lack of self-confidence or impatience, but I tend to be over-sensitive and easily hurt. I get caught in the downward spiral of over-analyzing, and I can quickly work myself into a panic over the most trivial matters. Too many tears have been shed over things that never actually happened. It’s a gift, really.
In addition to talking through the most likely reason behind any scenario, I also find it helpful to eat a big slice of humble pie. Believe it or not, you aren’t the center of the universe. The world does revolve around you. People do not exist solely to text you back promptly. They have bigger, more pressing matters to attend to. As obvious as this sounds, it is actually quite a hard pill to swallow. It requires constant reminder to shift your mindset, take a step back and view the big picture. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes a few failed attempts before you finish that piece of humble pie. Humility is a learned discipline, it takes practice.
Lastly, I find Teddy Roosevelt’s words, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” to ring true when talking about intent. The times when I’m most hurt by what I think other people did, are the times when I compare myself to others. It usually looks a little something like this:
She didn’t call me back because she prefers hanging out with her other friends.
They didn’t tag me in that picture because I’m not as pretty as everyone else in it.
He didn’t like my post because he doesn’t think my caption was as funny as others.
Comparison and intent form a vicious cycle. But don’t despair, there is hope. Plenty of people have learned how to take things at face value, and nothing more. They do not ascribe intent, and live happier lives as a result. It comes with practice, maturity and healthy boundaries. If your phone is the main source of most of your misery, maybe try unplugging every once in a while. If certain friends seem to always leave you out, try inviting them to do something for a change.
If you go about life with a well-intentioned heart, chances are everyone else is too.