Choosing Happiness during a Crowded and Grumpy Bus Ride
I had both my suitcase and my cup of coffee with me when I sank into the bus seat. The woman next to me did not like either of these items.
“Don’t let that touch me,” she said unpleasantly, pointing to the suitcase. “I have to go to work. Don’t get me dirty.” After I assured her that I was holding the suitcase tightly between my knees, she pointed at the coffee. “You’re not allowed to have that here. Didn’t you see the sign? No food. No drink.” Though her tone was decidedly hostile, she had a point. The coffee cup appeared to be against the rules. I apologized, explained that I didn’t know it was forbidden, and I wouldn’t do it next time. She glared back at me. “You’re American,” she practically hissed. “You should know!”
Okay. So there we were. Seatmates for another 10 or 15 minutes. I could let her get to me, and bark back with some witty insult I’d regret later. I could ignore her, which would still be uncomfortable — not only for me, and maybe her, but also the others immediately surrounding us. The negative energy of this encounter was infecting them, too.
Or, I could choose happiness. So, I turned on my mediator training/active listening skills. “You’re not American?” I asked her. “Where are you from?” Rome, she answered. “Oh, Italy! How wonderful!” I talked about my favorite Italian writer, Piero Ferrucci, and the melodious quality of Ferrucci’s language in his kindness book. Ah, yes, she agreed — it is a beautiful language. I found out that she was going to work in her church. That her mother was only half Italian, having grown up in Philadelphia. Philadelphia — where my daughter lived for many years, so we had something in common. We chatted about that coincidence.
Rather quickly, my seatmate’s iciness thawed even though she remained worried I’d spill my coffee on her. I have to say, those who know me know that’s a legitimate worry! I definitely did not want to spill the coffee on her white skirt; I was being extra careful with how I held my cup. Then my neighbor seemed to absolve me of all wrongdoing. Pointing at the cup, she said, “It’s not your fault. The bus driver should have told you when you got on.”
All was well. Thanks to my conscious decision to at least attempt to increase everyone’s happiness, I got off the bus smiling as my new Roman friend wished me a good day. She was smiling, too.
What a great story about choosing happiness even when the other person is showing hostility!! Think of a past situation where someone was less than warm and friendly to you. What did you do? Would you do anything different after reading this story? Or maybe keep it in mind for your next “interesting” interaction.
Ginny Sassaman is the founder of the Happiness Paradigm. Besides speaking and training on happiness topics, she is also a happiness coach, conflict coach, and a professional mediator. In 2009, Ginny joined with others in central Vermont to co-found Gross National Happiness USA, the first grassroots organization in the United States focused on this hopeful path forward to a sustainable future. Since January 2017, she has served as President of GNHUSA. You can support that work by signing the Charter for Happiness!