Research published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that there is a positive side to feeling angry. The study points out that it would be more useful in motivating people to overcome obstacles and achieve goals than a neutral emotional state.
Researchers recruited students from Texas A&M University in the United States for a series of seven experiments. In some of them, they provoked anger by showing students images that insulted their school, such as the university football team wearing diapers and baby bottles.
“It worked well,” says Heather Lench, lead author of the study and professor in the department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Texas A&M.
Anger helped students solve more puzzles, Lench and his team say. This is because young people were invited to participate in a challenging computer game and, when they realized that it was almost impossible to win, they became enraged. At this moment, they moved faster and their reaction time decreased.
Other experiments have also shown that anger can be beneficial. “For a long time, there was this idea that being positive all the time meant a ‘life well lived,’ and that’s what we should be striving for,” says Lench.
“But there is growing evidence that a life balanced by a mix of emotions appears to be more satisfying and positive in the long term.”
Embrace your anger
Many of us have learned to suppress negative emotions and focus on the positive. But experts suggest that being incessantly positive can be harmful.
“Most expressions of positivity lack nuance, compassion, and curiosity,” writes therapist Whitney Goodman in her book “Toxic Positivity.”
“They come in an imposing way, guiding how someone should feel and pointing out that what they are feeling at that moment is wrong.”
All emotions can be useful, according to psychologist Ethan Kross. “We evolved to experience negative emotions,” says he, who is director of the Emotion and Self-Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan (USA).
Kross says that anger can also arise after an offense, when the person still believes they can correct the situation. “It can be energizing.”
Analyze your anger
The first step is to recognize that you are angry. “It sounds obvious, but it’s not,” says Daniel Shapiro, associate professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital and author of “Negotiating the Nonnegotiable.”
It’s important to ask yourself: What am I feeling right now? What is this about? “We get angry when we feel like there’s an obstacle stopping us,” he says.
Anger can stem from emotions that shake us, such as shame, humiliation or the feeling of not being appreciated. At other times, anger can be triggered when we feel a threat to our identity — for example, when our beliefs or values are being attacked, says Shapiro.
Set a healthy goal
When anger arises, it is important to remember the initial goal. Otherwise, anger can quickly spiral out of control, producing a response that is disproportionate to the circumstances, or last too long.
One example would be an argument with a spouse. “Some studies have shown that expressing anger and having a confrontational discussion can improve a relationship, as long as your goal is to strengthen it, express your needs, or reach a compromise,” says Lench.
But if a person primarily cares about being right and winning the argument, this can “lead them to be aggressive in a harmful way,” he adds.
To discuss constructively with someone, Professor Shapiro recommends imagining what the other person is feeling and looking at the problem through their eyes — this way you will be more likely to influence them. This doesn’t mean you have to agree, but if your anger is all-consuming, you’ll need to step away to calm down.
Learn to use anger in the workplace
At work, you can channel the energy of anger to achieve performance-related goals. “For example, someone who didn’t get the annual review or promotion they wanted can use that anger to plan steps to do better next year,” says David Lebel, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh (USA).
“And if you raise an issue with your coworkers or manager, try to follow up with a suggestion that helps resolve the issue or ask for help finding a solution,” he adds.
Sometimes someone’s gender, race, or position in the organization can make some conversations more difficult in the office. Simone Stolzoff, workplace expert and author of “The Good Enough Job”, suggests seeking support inside and outside the office.
“Find solidarity among other colleagues, especially those at your level,” says Stolzoff. “Together, you can express demands or talk about what needs to be changed ‘in a thoughtful and considered way’.”
Finally, be careful when venting
Venting may feel good, but it often doesn’t produce solutions, says psychologist Ethan Kross. So, look for social support from people who are objective and can help reorganize the circumstances.