“Think positive” is a ubiquitous recommendation that is also often touted as the magic solution to all ills. However, overdosing on positive thinking can have counterproductive effects, generating more frustration and anger.
And it is precisely anger, one of the most reviled emotions, that can get us out of certain situations. After all, in our emotional universe no emotion is dispensable. They all have their reason for being. We just have to make sure we express them assertively and find a useful outlet for them.
Anger provides a great dose of energy
Getting angry doesn’t always feel good. It is not pleasant to feel anger course through us to the point of making us explode. However, sometimes it has its benefits, such as when we must face a complicated challenge. In fact, the etymology of the word anger (ira in Latin languages such as italian and spanish) dates back to the Indo-European word eis, which means to move quickly or passion.
For this reason, it should not surprise us that a study conducted at Texas A&M University revealed that anger can help us achieve our goals, especially when we have set a very challenging goal.
In one of the experiments, the researchers asked a group of participants to solve problems of varying degrees of difficulty. When they faced complex problems that were difficult to solve, they found that anger helped them find solutions. However, this emotion did not improve performance on the easier problem.
In another experiment, researchers told participants they could win a prize if they completed a series of tasks as quickly as possible. In this case, anger also improved response times, as well as making people try harder and try again to reduce their times. In other words, it not only improved their performance, but also encouraged perseverance.
What is the function of anger and how to take advantage of it?
Historically, overt anger has been viewed as a destructive force. Seneca, for example, thought that anger is a temporary madness. However, it is important to know the differences between anger and aggressivity since while we can obtain something positive from anger, its violent expression is always harmful.
In fact, harnessing anger can be much more effective than simply suppressing it. Emotional repression leaves us exhausted, while anger energizes us. It is an emotion that incites action and a powerful driver of behavior, so we can use it to our advantage when we need an additional dose of motivation.
Angry inner dialogue, for example, could help us find the energy we need to keep pushing ourselves. The adaptive function of anger is not limited only to protecting us from aggression.
Ultimately, this emotion has the objective of activating the psychological and physiological processes that we need to maintain a high level of energy. It prepares our body and our mind to keep us in a state of focused activation and directed towards a goal.
As if that were not enough, a study carried out at the Capital Normal University in Beijing even found that anger is also a great incentive for creativity when solving novel problems, much more than joy. The secret?
In contrast to the conventional reasoning process, which relies heavily on cognitive control, creativity can be triggered when the cognitive control function is suppressed, something that often occurs in situations of anger. For this reason, anger can not only promote divergent thinking but also reduce reaction time to find creative solutions to problems; That is, it can catapult our mental agility.
Therefore, the key is to channel that energy appropriately to achieve our goals. As Aristotle said, anger has enormous potential for positive change, as long as it does not undermine reason. In “Nichomachean Ethics”, the philosopher explained: “Anyone can get angry, that is something very simple. But getting angry at the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way, is certainly not so simple.”
You just have to remember not to get caught up in anger. It is important to find a balance and cultivate more positive emotions that make you feel better when you have finally reached your goal. You can use anger as a phase along the way, but not as a place to camp. And always make sure you express it appropriately, so that it does not harm you or others.
Lench, H. C. et. Al. (2023) Anger has benefits for attaining goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; 10.1037.
Zhan, J. et. Al. (2020) The angrier or the happier the more creative? The impact of anger and joy induction on creative problem-solving and divergent thinking. Psych J; 9(6): 864-876.