02/28/2014 10:22 am ET Updated Apr 30, 2014

Hey, Let's Stop Being Idiots, Okay?


This week is a mixed bag for me on the happiness front. On the one hand, I could not be more thrilled that Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer, did the right thing and vetoed the ugliest anti-LGBT bill to date, but knowing that it passed in the first place is still disheartening. Arizona legislators, this headline, in part, applies to you.

But that's not what this post is about.

Today, once again, I had a front row seat to the kind of meltdown that I'd like to put a stop to, and maybe writing about it here will help.

In Los Angeles, since Jan. 1, we've been struggling to overcome the horrors of the Great Grocery Bag Upheaval. To sum it up: Our leaders have banned plastic grocery bags altogether and now require shoppers to pay for paper bags. Oh, the humanity!

And yet, despite whatever good this might cause in the world, or at least in our little basin, it has engendered more outrage than I'd have imagined witnessing on a few simple trips to buy cheese and Brussels sprouts.

We're two months into the ban, and my score on tantrums I've seen has reached four. Four people who felt indignant enough over the injustice of having to bring their own bags, or pay a dime for each paper bag, that they've raged at pimply-faced baggers, harried managers, sore-backed checkers and anyone else in the vicinity.

Twice, I've been the next person in line, and thus was able to speak up. "Excuse me, do you think she had anything to do with making that policy?" Once that ended the rant and once it turned on me, and, oddly enough, Barbara Boxer (um... okay). One hissy fit I stayed out of, but was highly amused by, was a woman buying two expensive bottles of wine, two bottles of hard liquor, some pricey meats and cheeses, and howling over being charged 10 cents for a bag to put them in. You'd think that dime would break her.

Here's the thing we all have to keep in mind -- being angry and frustrated about a corporate policy or government decision does not give you the right to scream bloody murder at the hourly employee who had nothing to do with enacting that policy or law (and probably is suffering far more than you are as a result of it), and being "that guy" makes you look like an idiot.

The stores themselves could be doing a lot more to alleviate the problem, of course. How hard would it be to put a few signs up in the parking lot and at the entrances saying: "Don't Forget Your Bags!" Half the time, my cart is full before I even remember I was supposed to bring them in, and in that case, I'll just suck it up and buy the bags I need rather than go back outside for them. A reminder would be nice.

These stores also should offer a free reusable bag for every $50 spent, since the reusable bags they sell probably cost a quarter. That's a better PR move than just tossing your hands up and saying, "Hey. it's the law," and it will spare your workers endless grief. Why should you care, Ralph's, Vons, Albertsons, Sprouts et al.? Well, for one reason, I'd be a lot more likely to return to a store that rewards me for shopping there with a small freebie, but more importantly, not being screamed at every day will make your employees happier, and happier workers have fewer sick days, are more productive, and cause less liability. So think about it.

However, this one is mostly on the customers, and I just hope my fellow shoppers soon realize that it's wrong to scream at another person in general, but it is supremely wrong to scream at someone who could not possibly have less power over the situation, and is simply forced to stand there and absorb your ire.

We've all run across them -- the idiots who rage because McDonald's stopped serving breakfast an hour ago, who blow up at the check-out clerk because the price of something is too high, who shout at gate agents when their flights are delayed (yeah, because the middle-aged woman with the practical shoes and the store-bought highlights CAN CONTROL THE WEATHER!)

I understand, people get angry and feel the need to blow off steam, but unless you're mentally ill, you can control what comes out of your mouth. Walk away. Chill out. Spread kindness. The hourly worker waiting on you should not be your target, so please, check yourself. It will make life better for everyone, particularly the hourly workers, which will make all of us happier in the long run, including you.

Valerie Alexander is the author of Happiness as a Second Language, a #1 Seller on Amazon in both the Happiness and Self-Help categories. For more from Valerie, please visit Speak, and follow Speak Happiness on Facebook and Twitter.

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