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Are you cranky all the time? You aren't alone

Published Sep. 26, 2005

No doubt you've seen or heard it already: "24/7," an abbreviated phrase for 24 hours a day, seven days a week _ as in around-the-clock, non-stop, never closed.

"When we have a word for something, it is a reflection that it's a real phenomenon," says C. Leslie Charles, the author of Why Is Everyone So Cranky? The Ten Trends That Are Making Us Angry and How We Can Find Peace of Mind Instead (Hyperion, $22.95).

Charles is a former time-management instructor who lost faith in the curriculum after realizing what her clients needed to learn was life management. Like "road rage" and "going postal," she says, 24/7 is indicative of the trends fueling America's "anger epidemic."

"I view this book as the proverbial 2-by-4, an attention-getter," says Charles, founder of Training-works, a human resource development firm in East Lansing, Mich. "I wrote the book to help people look at the little details in their lives in a discriminating way."

Charles acknowledges the major flaw in writing a 383-page self-help book about crankiness: People who need it most may be too cranky to read it. "The problem is," she says, "we are too preoccupied with too many things."

Here are Charles' 10 trends that are driving Americans into emotional tailspins:

COMPRESSED TIME: Symptoms include feeling hurried and rushed every day, getting annoyed at long lines, going to bed wired, waking up tired. "We are living in an age of immediacy, impatience, urgency, interruption and intolerance to inconvenience," says Charles.

"A lot of us are living in a just-in-time framework," she says. " "If I leave right now, I've got just enough time to make it to work, if traffic is okay.' That's another piece that is pushing us to the brink."

COMMUNICATIONS OVERLOAD: You're always tuned in to TV, radio, Internet or the newspaper _ sometimes at the same time. You're surrounded by piles of papers and magazines you never get to.

"We are not just looking at but are embedded in an information-glut world," says Charles. "The factoids, the trivia, keeping up with a celebrity's love life rather than working on your own _ so much of it is just distraction, white noise."

DISCONNECTEDNESS: Too busy or tired for intimacy? "We are working more and enjoying it less. We are overloaded. How can we maintain a close relationship?" says Charles, adding it is hard to stay connected in large houses where every family member has his own television.

COST: "The cost of living continues to rise," says Charles. "We are bombarded with commercial enticements to earn, spend, accumulate, get the whole set." Life has become one constant "upgrade parade." Somewhere along the line, "we gained this expectation that we should have more than we have."

COMPETITION: Working longer hours with no extra benefits? Feel like you're always competing with somebody?

"We compete on the road, for parking places, in lines, so we constantly feel the pressure of other people around us," says Charles. "If you are in the grocery store's express lane, chances are you will count the items in the cart of the person in front of you. We are constantly monitoring other people's behavior."

CUSTOMER CONTACT: Notice consumers are more rude, complaining and unhappy?

"We aren't the neighborhood stores where you know every customer," says Charles. "The customer doesn't have time to build the relationship. The clerk doesn't, either."

COMPUTERS: "Technology surrounds us," says Charles, whose new car has a computer chip that monitors and learns how she drives. "Technology such as cell phones and pagers is part of the culprit behind our era of emergency, urgency and interruption. But we are so surrounded with convenience that when things go wrong, some people take it personally and go ballistic."

CHANGE: "More change than we want, less change than we need," she says. "Some of the stress in each of these trends comes from fighting the same battles every day against uncontrollables. Once we learn to stop fighting the uncontrollables, life gets easier. Getting angry will not increase someone else's intelligence."

COMING OF AGE: "Old is younger than it used to be," says Charles. "People are living longer and staying healthier longer." But young is older than it used to be, too, she adds. "Here we are having the opportunity to live longer and be younger _ and yet that is not enough."

COMPLEXITY: Thanks largely to technology, says Charles, "we are dealing with issues today that we don't even have legislation for _ controversies such as genetic engineering, reproductive technology. We get overwhelmed to the point that we don't want to deal with it all and that spins off into a huge feeling of inadequacy."

All these trends warp into each other, according to Charles. The solution? She lists several in her book and on her Web site,

One "gets rolled eyes once in a while," she says: "Asking "What's my life all about? What's really important to me?'

"How you want to be talked about when you're gone? By having a stronger sense of purpose about who I am, it's like taking care of your relationship with yourself _ and that creates a sense of inner peace," she says.

Practicing small acts of kindness daily is a good starting point. "You can't have both crankiness and compassion in your heart at the same time," she explains. "If we're spending our time focusing on the wrongs of other people, who can be compassionate? All of this is about sharpening the saw of life."