How to avoid crankhood

Behavior: It seems we have become a nation of whiners and complainers, but a new book offers suggestions for battling the epidemic of crankiness.

January 16, 2000|By Linda DuVal | Linda DuVal,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

This morning, you snapped at your spouse. Chastised your child. And now you're ready to berate your boss.

What's going on here?

You're cranky, that's what.

And it's jeopardizing your personal and professional relationships.

But you don't have to be cranky, says C. Leslie Charles, author of a new book, "Why is Everyone So Cranky?" (Hyperion, $22.95).

Charles is a workplace consultant and owner of TRAININGWORKS, a human resources development company.

But what makes her such an expert on crankiness? "I was a trendsetter, on the cutting edge. I was cranky 25 years ago, long before it was fashionable," she says from her home in Lansing, Mich. "I could have been Miss Cranky of the Universe. I hated my job. I hated my life," she said. "I was living in poverty. I was not fun to be around. Just ask my children."

Charles, 57, was married and had her first child at 16.

By age 20, she had three children. Then her husband walked out. "Believe me, I was cranky."

After putting herself through school and developing a career, her crankiness didn't dissipate. "Once we get cranky, we feel entitled to stay that way," she says.

About 10 years ago, she began to notice that she wasn't the only one who was cranky. Anger in our society had become pervasive, and scary words like "rage" were in everyone's daily vocabulary.

When she went to companies to do consultations on improving customer service or teamwork, she frequently heard: "I hate my job, but I feel trapped." Or "I never talk to my spouse anymore."

That told her why people were cranky and that there was a lot of it going around.

Recently, she says, she found a nautical definition of the word "cranky."

"It means `liable to capsize.' And I feel our society is on the verge of capsizing."

How can you tell when you have hit critical levels of crankiness?

"When people begin to walk away from you, that's an obvious clue," says Dr. Marvin Hoss, a psychologist in private practice in Columbia. "Something is happening. ... You're turning people off."

Hoss maintains that a good sense of humor, and simply lightening up, are the best antidotes to crankiness. And he believes that as a whole, we're no crankier than we've been at any other point in time.

"Maybe cranky people are terribly lonely," he says. "I don't think it has a thing to do with economic level, whether you're poor or rich. It's how you feel."

Charles believes that stress is the main culprit. "We're taking care of kids and parents, trying to keep a job, and feel like we need to have time for recreation, too," she says.

"What happens when we have to deal with all that stress is we go into react mode, which is why customers go ballistic and we have road rage."

Her book, she says, "is a light treatment of a very serious topic," and is designed for a quick read, with lots of short lists, quizzes and quick hits (i.e. "Ten Trends That Are Making Us Angry").

The first two trends, compressed time and communication overload, are the biggest contributors to our cranky society, she says.

"We are in such a hurry, we can't even get a leisurely drive to work. We leave late, and when traffic holds us up, we get mad."

And most of us are doing several things at once -- multi-tasking, in current lingo. "We eat, watch TV, go through the mail and read the newspaper all at the same time," she says.

"How much faster can we go?"

In her book, she offers several solutions to defusing this pervasive crankiness.

Answering two simple questions often does the trick:

1. Is this a small, medium or large annoyance?

2. How upset do I want to get and for how long?

Asking those two questions makes us stop, think and take control of the situation, she says. "If we can do that, we get more time, more control over our everyday lives, and we have more fun."

What a concept.

Sun staff writer Tamara Ikenberg contributed to this article.

Five things that make us cranky:

1. Compressed time: Many of us are frazzled from our hectic daily marathons, plagued with guilt when we can't do it all or filled with resentment when we do.

2. Communication overload: The immediacy and urgency of the media's constant suggestion to "stay tuned" leads us to think that we need more information, contributing to a condition called "input fatigue."

3. Dis-connectedness: Between the pace of our culture and extended work hours, who has time to maintain close, thriving relationships? When relationships begin to fray, so do our nerves.

4. Cost: The ever-increasing cost of living, coupled with the enticement to earn, spend and accumulate possessions, have many stretched beyond our means.

5. Competition: Every day, we vie with others for recognition, secure employment, personal space on the road and elsewhere, food, goods, services and attention.

Excerpted from "Why is Everyone So Cranky?" by C. Leslie Charles

Underlying expectations harbored by cranks:

I am entitled to what I want when I want it.

My time is important, and I should not have to be inconvenienced by others.

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