John O'Connell

We’re all too grouchy. Let’s calm down.


Have you noticed how irritable everyone is these days? There seem to be more irate drivers pounding their steering wheels and honking, nastier language on social media, more grumpiness, more rude sarcasm.

We seem to be a lot more stressed than we used to be, and way more willing to act out, to push that stress onto others. People who are usually calm are quicker to start yelling when they think they’re being slighted. Everyone seems too quick to feel disrespected. Grudges start in an instant. We used to fume quietly when someone took “our” parking spot; now we’re more apt to start in-your-face arguing.

We’re afflicted with a strange sickness. It’s like folks have gotten stuck in baby-like crankiness, or, worse, have returned to their adolescence, when life was a constant imposition on their freedom to be spoiled little snots.

What’s causing this outbreak of crabbiness? What’s the underlying disease that’s manifesting itself in these ugly symptoms? Are there treatments? Can we cure ourselves and get back to being more patient and forgiving, calmer and more conscious of others?

The causes of our grouchiness are legion. Among them, we’re addicted to our devices. Screens breed short attention spans. They make us nervous, provide us with too-immediate information and swamp us with confirmed and unconfirmed news as well as unbalanced, opinion-driven screeds masquerading as factual reportage.

Devices push us to always be on alert. Smartphones and tablets — touted as conveniences — now control us: the Rise of the Little Machines. Without our map app we can’t find a destination we’ve driven to a dozen times before. Without our Weather Channel app we don’t know how to dress.

Is it just me, or is traffic worse than ever? The LIE, the parkways, Old Country Road, Sunrise Highway, Hempstead Turnpike, 25A, Jericho Turnpike … you can’t drive anywhere, any time, without stop-and-go traffic. All this bumper-to-bumper aggravation gives us more reason to be cranky.

Public transportation doesn’t help. Penn Station is a nightmare, the high-fare Long Island Rail Road is constantly having problems, and the subways are breaking down. People (eventually) arrive at work or home with their personalities derailed, ready for a fight. Our Third World local airports and plane travel are aggravating embarrassments.

The threat — and reality — of death and injury at the hands of anti-Western-civilization murderers is an omnipresent cloud. Parents worry all the time anyway, but now that stress is at critical levels.

The barrage of bad journalism is wearing us down. We’re constantly assaulted by TV-news stars’ politics, with all their condescension and know-it-all sanctimony. What should be opportunities for enlightening discussions on important topics in which both sides listen to each other have become disputes in which know-almost-nothings delight in riling us and ridiculing our beliefs.

What can we do to calm down? A few suggestions:

On the theory that some of our irritability comes from being too focused on ourselves, one therapy might be to join something. By becoming an active member of a good-doing group, we can distract ourselves from ourselves. Join a volunteer fire department if you’re able, or a service, religious, business, social or cultural organization like the Knights of Columbus, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, B’nai B’rith, the local Chamber of Commerce, your religious organization’s council, the PTA or the senior center. Veterans can join the American Legion or the VFW. Volunteer at a hospital. Ask Island Harvest if they need some help. Do something for others.

Read books. That was columnist Peggy Noonan’s advice to the graduating class of Catholic University of America last month. “Information is more likely to be received and retained by the relaxed mind,” she told them. “Reading is by its nature relaxing. You’re not furiously scrolling down, you’re not hitting refresh, you’re not fighting off pop-ups, not surfing in search of likes, retweets, elusive approbation. It’s just you and your book, which unfolds before you, at your speed. It’s tactile. Hold the book in your hand, underline it, write notes on the margins, interact to the point even of defacement — it’s OK. Live with them for a while. Carry the paperback in your pocket. You must read so you don’t wind up with a head full of data you are unable to process. You process facts, data and information with the help of wisdom. Wisdom is to be got through life experience — and books.”

Get a spiritual life. Spend time thinking about God. A prayer life helps us discern a greater purpose for our lives and helps us prioritize. Fewer things will make us crazy if we understand what’s really important.

We must find ways to get through this age of insidious ire. What do you think causes the new angst, and what do you do to calm your life down? Let me know what you think at

John O’Connell is the Heralds’ former executive editor, now enjoying life in blissful semi-retirement.