Gossip’s Effect on Happiness

Gossip is a crutch we often lean on in times of doubt and malcontent, a common source for heightened anger and exaggerated feelings.  Sure, sometimes gossip is playful.  But often we create gossip with the intention of making ourselves feel better, expelling all our thoughts and frustrations.  We consume gossip to help friends vent their frustrations.  And gossip can also be very entertaining, often influencing us to get the low down dirt on a date, coworker, or celebrity.  An entire industry exists around celebrity gossip.  OMG did you see what Britney Spears wore last night?!  She looked so fat.

Gossiping about our problems makes us feel better temporarily, venting everything pent up and freeing those emotions begging to get out.  However, gossip isn’t a sustainable path to a happy, more peaceful state of mind.  Gossiping about our problems calms our emotions for a short period of time, but venting doesn’t solve the root problem.  Let’s look at an example.  Suppose my roommate bothers me a lot when he doesn’t do his dishes.  (Matt and Jon, this is purely hypothetical.)  Gossiping to my coworkers won’t help my roommate to do his dishes.  Instead I should chat with my roommate, or, even better, develop an inner peace that allows me to be patient and tolerant with my roommate’s habits.  More on inner peace later.  Lastly, if my roommate ever learns I’ve been saying bad things about him, it’s possible our relationship might be soured.  Not only does gossip not help me to overcome a problem, gossip can also jeopardize true and meaningful relationships.

With gossip we reap what we sow.  The time we spend developing patience, tolerance, and compassion for others is partially reset when we speak poorly of someone else.  Instead of gossiping about a situation or person, think about how you can improve your state of mind–your attitude.  Use times of frustration to teach yourself patience and tolerance.  Challenge yourself to work towards inner peace instead of changing the world around you.  Remember, our enemy–or in this case someone or something bothering us–is our best teacher of patience and tolerance.  When you turn a tough situation into a learning experience for patience and tolerance, you’ll be happier immediately, and your long term inner peace will be maintained.

In closing I’d like to leave you with an excerpt from Shantideva‘s Guide, a neat piece of Buddhist literation I discovered while reading the Dalai Lama’s Healing Anger.

Where would I possibly find enough leather
With which to cover the surface of the earth?
But (wearing) just leather on the soles of my shoes
Is equivalent to covering the earth with it.

Likewise it is not possible for me
To restrain the external course of things;
But should I restrain this mind of mine
What would be the need to restrain all else?

Verse 13-14