Why Impatience May be a Source of Your Discontent: And, What to do About It

(3.5 min read) 

Patience is a virtue.

That’s how the saying goes.

And a virtue, according to Oxford Living Dictionaries, is a quality considered morally good or desirable in a person.

But, in the year 2017, the world demands forward movement at an ever-increasing rate. Technologies continually advance and produce growing possibilities for immediacy, leaving nothing short of the instantaneous tolerated, let alone accepted. This essentially leaves little perceived need for patience in our lives. If patience is seemingly unnecessary, then we won’t use it, and like a muscle, if we don’t use it, we lose it.

While instant messaging, same-day delivery, and ultra-high-speed internet may not require us to cultivate much patience, I believe that our happiness does. Now, more than ever, it seems that the western world is faced with an unhappiness crisis, while our patience is simultaneously diminishing. With this being the case, it’s hard not to imagine that our lack of patience may be partially to blame.

There are many areas of life that still require incredible amounts of patience. Finishing a university degree, learning to play a musical instrument, renovating a house, building and growing a business, raising children, facing challenges that come up at work, in unemployment, and illness…

With a diminished capacity for patience, it’s no wonder that we struggle to find contentment in our daily lives. We rush through whatever we’re doing in order to reach some end that we believe will bring us satisfaction. But, the reality is, once we get there, we learn that our satisfaction is only short-lived, and soon enough, we’re faced with yet another task that requires time, frustration, and yes, more patience. Thus, we get caught in a vicious cycle of rushing through our entire lives waiting for “one day” to arrive.

Except, that “one day” never comes.

One of the most important things we can do to increase our subjective levels of happiness, I believe, is to learn how to slow down, by intentionally cultivating a sense of patience in our day-to-day lives. I emphasize the term “intentionally” here because developing patience is something that takes a lot of effort, and doesn’t come naturally to most people, given the demands of the fast-paced western world. It takes time and commitment, as well as developing an alternative way of being and doing. Ironically, it takes quite a bit of patience! But, it is possible.

Here are a few things you can do to start cultivating more patience in your life:

1|  Practice daily mindfulness meditation.  By sitting with the breath and allowing oneself time to focus awareness on the present moment, we can begin to experience slowness, as well as accept the discomfort that’s often associated with the here and now. Not only this, but mindfulness meditation gives us the opportunity to cultivate joy in routine moments. It allows us to experience a sense of fulfillment with the simplest life events, whether it be waiting at a red light, washing the dishes, or simply breathing. With a sense of acceptance of the present moment, there is no need to escape from it by pushing forward into a non-existent future.

2|  Keep a gratitude journal.  We know that there are many benefits of writing when it comes to mental health (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986). We also know that writing about our blessings, specifically, helps us increase our sense of gratitude (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). I’d like to suggest that keeping a gratitude journal is a way that we can develop more patience, as well. By writing down 3 things that we are grateful for each day, we’ll begin to see that, despite the pain or discomfort we currently face, there are still many sources of joy in our lives. People have a tendency to focus on the negatives more than the positives (known as the negativity bias; Rozin & Royzman, 2001). By training our minds to focus more on some positives, we’ll allow ourselves the chance to appreciate our lives as they already are, and, as with practicing mindfulness meditation, we’ll find fewer reasons to rush through.

3|  Find inspiration in some of the greatest works of all time.  Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was the Great Wall of China, Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, nor the Notre Dame. Remember that the time, effort, and above all, patience, we put into our lives determines the quality of our own personal outcome, just as the time, effort, and patience that was put into each of these works determined their success in becoming masterpieces. Rushing through whatever we’re doing will certainly never get us there. On the other hand, cultivating patience, as Michelangelo so obviously did, will result in a fuller, richer and more meaningful experience, in effect, leading to greater life quality.

They say patience is a virtue, and a virtue is a quality considered morally good or desirable. But, I believe that patience is so much more. In a world of increasing unhappiness, I believe that patience is an absolute necessity – one that truly helps pave the way towards a happier and more satisfying life.

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Emmons, R. A. & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389.

Pennebaker, J. W., & Beall, S. K.  (1986).  Confronting a traumatic event:  Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95(3), 274-281.

Rozin, P. & Royzman, E. B. (2001). Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5(4), 296-320.