Beware of him that is slow to anger; for when it is long coming, it is the stronger when it comes, and the longer kept. Abused patience turns to fury. —Francis Quarles
Those closest to me know that I have anger issues. I always have. When I was small I would deal with the anger by hopping on my bike and riding until I was exhausted. As I grew older, I developed other coping mechanisms such as biting my tongue (literally) and counting to 100. Many times I would walk away from a situation that was making me angry. None of those methods were completely fool-proof though. There have been many times when my anger has boiled over and everyone nearby has felt the wrath.
We’ve all been told our entire lives that anger is a negative emotion, one we shouldn’t give any room or attention. Consider how our universal mindset is positioned for an anti-anger attitude:
- In a controversy the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves. —Buddha
- Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one. —Benjamin Franklin
- The greatest remedy for anger is delay. —Lucius Annaeus Seneca
- Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. —Mark Twain
- Every day we have plenty of opportunities to get angry, stressed or offended. But what you’re doing when you indulge these negative emotions is giving something outside yourself power over your happiness. You can choose to not let little things upset you. —Joel Osteen
Today, I can call horseshit on all the anti-anger sentiment.
A Preponderance Of Evidence
Normally, articles such as this one stem from a single reading that branches out to various pieces of scientific research. This time, however, two very different articles showed up in my inbox at almost exactly the same time from two dramatically different sources. When I looked at the headlines sitting there together, I had to chuckle. The universe rarely gives me this kind of synchronicity. Then, I assumed the two articles likely contained different views of the same research. I was wrong. Both brought their own research to the party. By the time I read everything, I was thoroughly exhausted.
Where we start is with this article by Zaria Gorvett for the BBC. Ms. Gorvett’s writing here is extremely well researched. I would like to think that you would follow the link to her article and read the research which she references. You won’t, though, will you? Don’t worry, I’ll cover the high points for you.
The second article is from the more surprising source. The Greater Good website is the cumulative work of the Greater Good Science Center at Berkely University. Their stated purpose is:
The Greater Good Science Center studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.
Sounds all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it? Yet, from this source comes Christine Carter’s article on Why It Doesn’t Pay To Be A People-Pleaser. When the universe delivers a double-whammy like that I’m pretty sure it means for me to pay attention.
The Soft Side Of Anger
Dr. Carter’s article takes a softer approach to the topic, not actually hitting the emotion of anger head-on but rather coming at it from the dichotomy of trying to please other people. If that doesn’t fuel some major anger and resentment I don’t know what does. She delivers three very good reasons why trying to be that super-positive Mr/Ms Happy all the time is a bad idea:
- We don’t actually fool anyone
- We find it harder to focus
- You’ll become more stressed and anxious
The last subtopic was what really got my attention. Faking happy when we’re really not, shoving down our anger and frustration and trying to force the positivity is bad for us. Blood pressure goes up. Anxiety becomes more dominant. Our immune system doesn’t work as well resulting in more frequent illness. Not letting out all that anger you’re building up can kill you, and fast!
More than that, trying to push the happy when we’re obviously not happy is lying. We’re not really pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. The people who work around you, the people who live around you, and even the kid who helps carry your groceries to the car knows your faking. Do you really want to live a lie or is it better to accept that some things totally piss you off and deal with your anger?
Dr Carter emphasises that the more we try to fake it, the more damage we do:
It’ll increase the odds that you react more aggressively to a provocation, eat more tempting snacks, engage in riskier behaviours, and—this one is pretty compelling to me—perform more poorly on tasks that require executive function, like managing your time, planning, or organizing.
See? All that fake goody-goodness isn’t doing anyone one damn bit of good.
Letting The Anger Flow
Ms. Gorvett comes at us with a strong statement that is backed by a truckload of research. Shove the positivity horseshit. Being angry accomplishes more good and is healthier at the same time.
The truth is, pondering the worst has some clear advantages. Cranks may be superior negotiators, more discerning decision-makers and cut their risk of having a heart attack. Cynics can expect more stable marriages, higher earnings and longer lives – though, of course, they’ll anticipate the opposite.
See all the links in that quote? Those lead to the research supporting her statement, and she’s just getting started. Good moods, all that happy-happy nonsense, is bad for you. I’m not just talking about emotions here. That positive attitude makes one more gullible, more selfish, and even encourages binge drinking, overeating and unsafe sex. This isn’t anecdotal. The research is right there in black and white.
Being angry, it turns out, puts us on guard, makes us more aware of a situation, and prepares us to be able to solve problems more quickly. Not surprisingly, this comes from our primal instincts and the need to protect ourselves. When our cave-dwelling ancestors lost a friend or family member to an aggressor, they got pissed off and either found a way to kill the aggressor or, if that wasn’t possible, move the fuck out of the offender’s territory.
Anger is a great motivator to help us get things done. Many times we don’t realize a problem exists until it pops up and ruins our day. We don’t like having our days ruined so we find a way to put that nonsense to an immediate end so that it doesn’t happen again. With that problem solved, we’re just a little less likely to be angry tomorrow. We’re doing well, right?
Anger Isn’t Going To Kill You
Pay attention here. Kat is constantly on me that my anger is raising my blood pressure and that I’m likely to have a heart attack while in the midst of having a nuclear meltdown over something. We’ve heard the same thing from doctors and psychologists for as long as we’ve been asking their advice. My son has taken to putting a kitten in my lap when he senses my anger reaching the boiling point. However, the research takes a different opinion.
644 people who already had coronary artery disease were followed for five to ten years. The study looked at anger, suppressed anger, and tendencies to experience stress. Guess what? The research showed that anger had NO IMPACT on one’s mortality. However, suppressing that shit increases the chances of having a heart attack nearly three-times over. You’ll just have to excuse me if I scream at someone the next time they no show on an appointment. I’m preventing a heart attack, dammit.
Furthermore, being angry the first time might prevent you from experiencing the same stressor later. If you’ve gotten angry over a situation, the next time that situation comes up your more likely to take steps to avoid what made you angry, such as making backups of your work, or packing extra clothes, or being sure the waiter explicitly understands that you’re allergic to mango. Anger saves our lives by putting us on our guard against Murphy’s Law. When you’re expecting bad things to happen, you’re more likely to be ready.
Anger Is Good
People who are angry are more likely to have a well-established sense of fairness, are more likely to be generous with their resources, and are more likely to help people they see who are in need. They’re more prepared for life’s disasters and have the attitudes to deal with the stress. Angry people solve problems, are better negotiators, and invest more sensibly.
By contrast, people who are all positive and goody-goody all the time are more likely to be taken in by scams, are more likely to waste their money, are more likely to have failed relationships, and are more likely to become the victims of unexpected disasters. They also have shorter life spans, are more likely to fall prey to incurable disease, and need more assistance.
Which of those camps would you rather be in? For myself, I think I’ll keep hold of my anger, thank you. If you don’t want to experience it, then don’t fuck up. Do what you say you’re going to do. When you book an appointment, show the fuck up. Pay when services are delivered.
Oh, and one more thing: STAY THE FUCK OFF MY LAWN!