Of all the thinking patterns that contribute to unhappiness, it’s the ‘shoulds’ that are the most pervasive and unhelpful. ‘Shoulds’ play a major role in feelings such as anger, resentment, and bitterness. They reflect our expectations of how people ought to behave and how the world ought to be…

My friends should be supportive

My son should study hard for his exams

My husband should be able to communicate well

My wife should want the same things that I do

My work colleagues should be conscientious

My boss should be fair

The trains should run on time

Pet owners should clean up after their pets

Neighbours should keep their music down

Any of these beliefs can cause us to feel angry if we hold them as absolute truths rather than preferences. This is because the world does not conform to anyone’s rules, let alone our rules. Rigid, inflexible expectations simply make us anger-prone.

Of course, this is not to say that we should have no expectations of others, or that we should accept unreasonable behaviour without challenging it. At times it’s important to take a stand and do what we can to resolve an injustice. However, it’s also important to be flexible, and accept that in the real world, people will not always do what we think they should

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