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
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
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.