Carolyn Hax: Deal with life's unfairness by giving more

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
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By Carolyn Hax
Thursday, July 22, 2010

Adapted from a recent online discussion:

Dear Carolyn:

I know you are supposed to make peace with and grow past things that are unfair, like parents who favor someone else, bad exes who seem to sail through unscathed, etc. But I'm so tired of being told some variation of "life isn't fair" and that it's my choice to be angry or upset. I know life isn't fair. I'm trying like hell to not be bitter at holding the perpetual short end of the stick.

But. I am angry. I am resentful. I am in therapy as well, but I need some concrete advice on how not to feel a burning pit in my stomach on occasion.


All you can do is force yourself -- and it really will take force sometimes -- to work on removing "perpetual" from the equation.

It's normal and understandable for people who feel they've been shorted to put their hands out -- to reach for what they think is their due. Usually, though, that only heightens the bitterness and sense of injustice, because good things don't just come to people who have their hands out.

One alternative is to make concerted efforts to go out and earn the things you want most. That's a little more productive, but it's not perfect; the things so many people want most require others to come through for them. To be loved, someone has to love you; to be rich, someone has to pay you, etc. Hard work can be its own reward, sure, but when you're looking for cosmic payoff, it often doesn't feel like enough. It can even contribute to a sense that you're working twice as hard as everyone else for only half the payout.

That's why a counterintuitive alternative is often the best one: Putting your hand out to give. There's something about being generous with your time, your love, your expertise, your money -- whatever you've got to spare -- that acts like anti-venom on the bitterness of not receiving. In a way, it puts you in the position of being the person you always wanted to have in your life: The one who recognized you were getting shorted, and who makes it up to you. You can make it up to those who got an even shorter end of the stick.

Try it, at least. Even if it doesn't wipe out your bitterness entirely, it will leave however many people better for your having suffered. That's got to be something.

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