How Waiting Can Make You Happier

These days we can get many things with the click of a button – instant TV shows, online shopping and more. Are we getting more impatient?

Our ability to endure discomfort may be getting worse, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Patience is a skill we can develop – and it might just make us happier.

You notice immediately when people are impatient. Drivers honking at traffic lights, customers complaining loudly about the service in a restaurant, workmates frustrated when you are a little slower with a task.

The patient among us don’t get the same attention. But patience – the ability to keep calm in the face of disappointment, distress, or suffering is worth cultivating, says Sarah Schnitker, Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Baylor University. Her work has linked patience with life satisfaction, self-esteem, self-control and even being better able to pursue and accomplish goals.

“When you’re patient, you’re calmer, so you’re able to keep persisting when it’s difficult,” she says. “You’re also able to know when to act and when to conserve energy.”

Schnitker’s research has also found impatience to be linked with loneliness, a higher incidence of depressive symptoms and negative emotions. Other research links impatience with a higher risk of heart problems and even to shorter telomeres, the part of our DNA that influences how cells age.


Patience is a skill

If you recognise that you lose your temper pretty quickly, can you learn to be more patient? Schnitker believes you can.

Don’t rely on sheer will. If you’re serious about cultivating patience, says Schnitker, you need to think of it as another skill that takes practice. Any time you feel frustration or adversity, you can practise patience. Whether you’re at home with the kids, at work with colleagues, or at the supermarket check-out, taking some deep breaths and practising patience can make the difference between getting annoyed and staying calm.

Remind yourself you’re only uncomfortable. When minutes feel like hours – such as when you’re stuck in traffic or being put on hold forever – it can feel uncomfortable because you have little or no control over the situation. Try to remember that you are simply uncomfortable. When you recognise and accept discomfort you’ll find it much easier to cope.


Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If the reason for your impatience is another person, flick the switch in your head to empathy. Maybe your co-worker has a lot on his plate, or the person in the supermarket queue is elderly and struggling to find her cash. Reminding yourself that they are only human can help you become more patient in the moment.

And take heart. Even the most zen of us can’t be patient all the time and patience can quickly evaporate when we’re over-tired, sick, in pain, hungry, stressed or even overheated. Be patient with yourself when you’re learning patience.