What Really Upsets Us?

Jay Forrest

Imagine with me for a moment. 

You're in a grocery store, and there's a bunch of rude people all around you. The store is busy, it's hectic, and you just want to get out of there. All of a sudden, someone pushes you from behind. You're angry, you're frustrated. You are going to turn aground and confront that jerk.

But when you turn around, all you see is a blind man who accidentally bumped into you. Instantly, your anger and frustration go away, and you feel sympathy. What changed?

The event is the same. You were pushed. But your interpretation of the event has changed. And that changed of judgment is what has changed your emotional state. You think differently, so now you feel differently.

It was Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher, who said, “It's not things that upset us, but our judgments about things.” It is not people who upset us, but our judgments about them. The event of being pushed didn’t upset the shopper, it was his or her interpretation that it was intentionally done by a jerk. Once the interpretation changed, the feeling changed.

One of the great lessons in life is to realize that feelings follow our thoughts. We can change the way we feel by changing the way we think. This is a great help in times of stress and grief and loss. How we conceptualize and judge the event, produces the way that we feel.

This great truth, that our judgments about events and people create the way we feel, is the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT is the most successful psychotherapy that's currently available for mood disorders. You can take that element of truth and apply it to your own life.

Look at the way that you feel, and examine the way you're thinking. See the connection between your thoughts and your feelings. So if you're feeling depressed and sad and lonely, stop and look at the way that you're thinking. Notice how your thoughts are negative, how your thoughts focus on loss, on the pain. Now try to change those thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts, realistic thoughts, thoughts that build you up and encourage you. As a wise man once said, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7 NKJV).

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Jay N. Forrest is an Anglican mystic pursuing God through prayer, meditation, simplicity, solitude, and silence. He is the author of The Deeper Life: Finding God on the Mystic Path.

Jay N. Forrest was an ordained Pentecostal minister for over two decades. He earned his doctorate of ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Christian University. He has deeply explored many philosophical and religious traditions and is certified to teach mindfulness meditation.

Scripture Quotations

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition. Copyright © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scriptures marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.