Commentary

Annoyed: How to keep everyday irritations from wrecking your day

May 7, 2022 11:00 am

Robocalls are one of many daily annoyances that irritate Americans. (Photo by Getty Images)

We live, work and learn in an increasingly aggravating environment.

Robocalls rank among the top petty annoyances. We may overlook one or two, but several in a day can trigger ire.

Americans receive close to 4 billion robocalls per month, on track for 47 billion robocalls by the end of the year.

The content of calls is disturbing, but the timing can be even more so.

You’re preparing a meal, watching Netflix or enjoying another’s company when the cell phone vibrates — someone wants to indict you for tax fraud, extend your car warranty or report an unauthorized Amazon charge.

Arg.

The word “annoy” comes to us from the French, “enoiier,” which means to weary or vex. Webster’s defines it as “to disturb or irritate especially by repeated acts.”

Depending on party affiliation, you’ll get political texts and calls — a communique from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or an urgent message from Sen. Charles Grassley.

Americans received an estimated 18.5 billion political text messages in 2020, and there’s little you can do to stop them. Unfortunately, the National Do Not Call Registry does not apply to politics. Neither can you bar charities and debt collectors from contacting you as they are exempt from the Federal Trade Commission’s blocking list.

And then there is the mobile phone itself. Among the top annoyances are battery life, software updates and passwords. Once again, time, place and occasion dictate the level of exasperation. Your phone dies during an important call or updates and wipes out your passwords so you have to remember them again.

The password guessing game is infuriating. You get three chances to recall a password before you’re blocked and now must call the facility or organization to be reinstated digitally.

Then there is two-factor identification, increasingly used by schools and businesses. You can’t simply sit at the computer anymore and get to work; you have to find your phone and affirm, “Yes, it’s me.”

We also are annoyed face-to-face.

According to one study, top irritants include bosses requesting urgent work, no toilet paper left, empty milk cartons in fridge, friends canceling plans at last minute, and encountering someone you dislike at the supermarket.

Journalism annoys, too. Former Des Moines Register columnist Kyle Munson listed these bothersome cliches:

  • Familiar with the situation. “I’m always glad that the reporter didn’t rely on an unnamed source who was unfamiliar with the situation.”
  • War chest. “If political writers want to get cute, I vote that they replace it with the term ‘piggy bank.’”
  • Amid. “Amid these turbulent times, a little less ‘amid’ would make me happy. And we can ditch of ‘turbulent times’ while we’re at it.”

(For the record, my most annoying news phrase is “take a listen.”)

A Marist poll reported in December 2021 that “Trump” and “coronavirus” were among the most maddening terms, replacing “whatever” for the first time in more than a decade. Other annoying words included “Critical Race Theory,” “woke,” “cancel culture” and “It is what it is.”

Americans have a hard time trusting the news. The least trustworthy anchors in descending order are Sean Hannity (Fox News), Rachel Maddow (MSNBC), Don Lemon (CNN), Mika Brzezinski (MSNBC), Chris Matthews (MSNBC), Joe Scarborough (MSNBC), Tucker Carlson (Fox News), Chris Cuomo (CNN), Laura Ingraham (Fox News) and Anderson Cooper (CNN).

Cooper also was listed as among “the most trusted” after NBC’s Lester Holt, indicating how divided viewers are in ranking the news.

Considering worldwide disease and war, we might wonder why these trivial annoyances hijack our emotions, sometimes leading to outbursts that jeopardize character and reputation.

According to Psychology Today, “A minor irritation, a ‘petty annoyance,’ can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back under chronic stress.” We are asked to put things into perspective, think positively, be patient, avoid antagonistic people and understand moods, including our own.

People have been trying to tame emotions for millennia.

Stoicism, an ancient branch of philosophy, encourages us to face our feelings in a mindful way. One Stoic meditation that can help with annoyance is called the “premeditatio malorum.” Stoicism accepts that bad things can happen in life and urges one to imagine worst-case scenarios in logical, unemotional detail. If those bad things do indeed come to pass, then we can act quickly with purpose rather than be surprised and react with anger.

Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and philosopher, believed we have power over our mind, not external events. In his book, Meditations, he writes: “Begin in the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial.” Accept that as fact, he states, because being vexed at everything goes against human nature.

Do not take petty annoyances to heart. Rather, he opines, overlook the failings of others and “remember that all is opinion.”

Especially robocalls.

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Michael Bugeja
Michael Bugeja

Michael Bugeja is the author of "Living Media Ethics" (Routledge/Taylor & Francis) and "Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine" (Oxford Univ. Press). He is a regular contributor to Iowa Capital Dispatch and is writing a series of columns on the topic of "Living Ethics."

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