Pet Peeves: The Role of Happiness and Mindfulness

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relationship difficulties: young couple having a conflictFeeling frustrated by slow walkers, people who fail to use their turn signal, or people who forget to cover their mouths when they cough? These relatively petty concerns are called pet peeves. Pet peeves like these and others represent particular occasions, actions, or individuals that cause a person to complain, feel frustrated or get angry.

How are relationships affected by pet peeves? What role does mindfulness play in reducing negative feelings? Kowalski and colleagues sought to answer these questions in their study Pet Peeves and Happiness: How Do Happy People Complain? They examined participants’ pet peeves via a survey that included listing biggest personal irritations, assessments of positive and negative emotions, mindfulness, depression, and happiness.

Results from this study suggest that the most reported pet peeves included chewing gum loudly, mumbling, being unclean, not listening, whining, and being late. In addition, pet peeves made people less satisfied with their relationships with others. This was due to people constantly expressing their annoyances to their significant other. As a result, individuals were irritated and felt that their partner was intentionally trying to make them upset. Furthermore, people reported feeling unhappy due to others engaging in their pet peeves. Mindfulness appeared to make a difference in how people felt when they saw others partaking in their pet peeves. Kowalski and colleagues found two ways that people can deal effectively with their pet peeves.  First, people can express their grievances when they think that it will make a difference. Individuals realize that by expressing their grievances to their significant other, it will only make things worse. Second, individuals can engage in mindfulness to better deal with their pet peeves and increase happiness. Happy people tend to avoid engaging in negative thoughts. By thinking of their pet peeves and expressing their annoyances to others, this decreases feelings of happiness and increases negativity.

AlexandraBy Alexandra Graff
Alexandra is a senior, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Human Development. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, she plans on working in the education or healthcare field as a psychometrist.

Kowalski, R., Allison, B., Giumetti, G., Turner, J., Whittaker, E., Frazee, L., & Stephens, J. (2014). Pet peeves and happiness: How do happy people complain? The Journal of Social Psychology, 154, 278-282.

Anger Management Tip: Meditate

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Many people think of guided meditation as a particular type of relaxation technique.  While it is relaxing, it has the potential to be even more useful than that.  Relaxation has its effect on by decreasing physiological arousal (you can’t be angry and relaxed at the same time).  Meditation, however, has the added benefit of offering an opportunity to think through your feelings in a healthy way.

Click her to give it a try: Guided Meditation for Anger

Photo Courtesy: jakub_hla

Smell the Roses, Relieve the Rage

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Anger is an emotion that is experienced by everyone and one important aspect of anger is rumination, or dwelling on the negative events that have happened to us. In a recent article published in Aggressive Behavior, a team of researchers discussed one technique that may help decrease rumination: mindfulness. Dr. Ashley Borders, one of the authors of the article, describes mindfulness as, “paying attention to whatever is present right now (whether it be sounds, sights, feelings, and/or thoughts), ideally without judgment or reactive responses.”

But, does mindfulness actually decrease rumination? In order to examine this question, Dr. Borders and her team carried out two studies. In the first study, the researchers worked with a group of undergraduate students who were asked to fill out a number of self-report questionnaires designed to measure mindfulness, rumination, and anger/aggression. The study was then replicated with a group of participants recruited from the general population. The researchers did indeed find that mindfulness decreased anger by reducing the amount of time a person spends ruminating. Additionally, it was found that increased mindfulness was associated with decreased aggression. Dr. Borders suggested several reasons for why this may be. First, actively engaging in mindful behavior is the opposite of ruminating, and thus allows us to take our minds off of past events. Second, mindfulness allows an individual to be more “cognitively flexible,” or more able to shift attention away from negative thoughts. Last, she noted that, “mindful people are less likely to view negative feelings and unpleasant events as scary or unacceptable, whereas people who ruminate tend to fear and avoid negative emotions.”

Whether the reason is one or all of those listed above, Dr. Borders notes that the findings carry implications for both research and clinical practice. Specifically, since the study shows support for the use of mindfulness in decreasing anger, researchers may want to see how it affects other negative emotions. Clinicians may also want to make use of mindfulness training as a supplement to current interventions used in anger management training. In either case, it seems that mindfulness may have a future in helping individuals decrease anger and negativity.

In the mean time, Dr. Borders offers up a piece of advice for those looking to use mindfulness as tool to decrease negative thinking: “One way to feel less angry is to pay attention to what is happening around you right now…pay attention to the sound of cars going by your window or the feeling of your clothes on your skin, or how your stomach rises and falls as you breathe in and out. “ Be patient though, as learning to be mindful takes practice: “It’s like weight-lifting: you need to give your mind time to practice and build up the muscles needed for attentional control.”

Additional information on mindfulness can be found at

By Matthew Machnik
Matthew Machnik is a senior Psychology major at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He has a minor in Human Development and plans on attending graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.