Sometimes it feels good to be angry, especially when we let it show. There’s something satisfying about letting our feelings out: having a good rant, shaking our fist at the driver who just cut us off in traffic, writing that snappy put-down in response to someone’s idiotic Facebook post, and even, when we feel the occasion warrants it, letting loose with a string of good old-fashioned curse words. Giving voice to our bottled up frustrations and finally expressing our self-righteous indignation can feel liberating and even empowering. And if we’re not careful, being angry can turn into a habit, and then turn from a habit into an actual lifestyle.
We seem to be living in a time when there is a lot to be angry about, and we are reminded of it daily. The news media is full of stories of all sorts of injustices, and even if we turn off the news, we see plenty of injustice in our day-to-day lives. Too often good manners are replaced with rudeness and discourtesy, and who hasn’t spent far too much time on hold with what some company laughingly refers to as their customer service department? The Presidential campaign is heating up, generating plenty of anger on both sides, and it seems as if just keeping our heads above water in a struggling economy is becoming more difficult by the day. Any way you look at it, there is plenty to stoke our anger.
But the problem is, being angry doesn’t solve anything. It may be a natural response to provocation, and it may even provide a sense of immediate gratification (“Boy, did I tell them!”) but in the long run, it accomplishes nothing. When we yell at someone, all we do is alienate them, making them feel attacked and resentful. Ditto for shaking fists, cursing, “take downs” in someone’s comment section, etc. Ultimately, expressing our anger is more about pleasing ourselves than about solving a problem, and it usually makes things worse.
I think the key is to use our anger as the inspiration and motivation to deal with a problem. Being angry because I was on hold for twenty minutes over an inaccurate phone bill can give me the stamina to stay on the line until I get an actual manager who can help. My anger over neglected and abused animals gives me the strength to keep going back to the local humane society each week, which means I can be a (very small) part of the solution to animal abuse. And my anger over our current, incredibly cruel and divisive political scene gives me the strength to do my best to treat people who believe differently than I do with respect and common courtesy. Because I never want to believe that any group of people deserves to be beaten down.
Of course there will always be times when I lose my temper and say and do things that I shouldn’t. But I don’t want to revel in those times, fooling myself into thinking that just because my anger is justified that it’s actually helpful. I’ve seen far too many people get stuck in that unproductive and unhappy “angry at the world” mode to want to be a part of that. Instead, I want to apologize to whomever I snapped at, and then take some deep breaths, go for a run around the block, call a neutral friend who is kind enough to let me vent, or do whatever it takes to calm myself down. And then I want to look at the situation with fresh eyes and the question, “Is there something I can do to make this better?”