Friday, September 19, 2014

"I'm angry, and there's nothing I can do about it"

What is anger?

A feeling, of course. An emotion.

But is it a driving force? Does it have control? Can it literally fill our head, rush down to our chest, and take hold of our entire being?

Sure it can... if we let it.

Anger can "make" us do things we wouldn't normally do, say things we think are generally rude, and act in an irrational way. But again, only if we let it.

The philosopher Seneca saw anger as something that we could, in fact, control. We don't have to be angry.

This is quite a relief for someone like me. You see, I get angry pretty much every day. Just ask my parents or sisters -- they'll speak the truth. It might not be anger that leads me to violence, but I might have a few choice words and a rushing heartbeat for a couple of minutes.

But hearing that perhaps anger can be controlled is great news for people like me.

Before we get to the secret of controlling anger, let's look at the cause. Whenever we are angry, there are elements of surprise and self-pity. We are surprised by what goes on around us and we feel sorry for ourselves that we have to endure it. According to Seneca, we get angry because we are "too hopeful". Anger is a result from wrong expectations.

Adjust your view of the world, and you won't be so angry anymore.

Here's what you do:

  1. Prepare yourself for the day. Wake up in the morning and list a few things that could "go wrong" and make you angry: being late for work, terrible drivers on the road, another project from your boss, and the fact that you'll probably start to come down with a cough before the end of the day. 
  2. If some of that stuff happens, you won't be surprised. You'll feel you were more in control of the situation because of your foresight. No surprise = no anger.
  3. If some of that stuff doesn't happen, you will be happy that your lower expectations were not met. 
For example, I get angry whenever I'm on the road. The driver's are crazy, everyone is in my way, he's going too fast, she's going too slow, there's construction, etc. etc. Before I get in the car, if I tell myself "There are some stupid people out there; I'll get delayed because of traffic; I'll probably end up in a wreck", then I won't be nearly as angry when I do in fact encounter some of those problems. 

The best way to counter anger is to be prepared -- so get yourself ready each day for the stuff that could (and often does) go wrong. Then be happy, because you can. 

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