By John Salak –
Maybe there are times when chilling out isn’t the best idea. Anger, in fact, may be the motivator some need to achieve their life goals. Research published by the American Psychological Association seems to think there is merit in being mad.
“People often believe that a state of happiness is ideal, and the majority of people consider the pursuit of happiness a major life goal,” said the study’s lead author Heather Lench, Ph.D., a professor at Texas A&M University. “The view that positive emotion is ideal for mental health and well-being has been prominent in lay and psychological accounts of emotion, but previous research suggests that a mix of emotions, including negative emotions like anger, result in the best outcomes.”
The research behind this idea ties into the functionalist theory of emotion, which suggests that all emotions, good or bad, are reactions to events within a person’s environment. They all serve to alert a person that important situations are present that require a response or action. Each emotion may call for a different response. Sadness, for example, may indicate that a person needs to seek help or emotional support, while anger may encourage someone to take action to overcome an obstacle.
The study examined the impact of anger in achieving goals via experiments involving more than 1,000 participants and analyzing survey data from more than 1,400 respondents. Each experiment was designed to elicit either an emotional response (such as anger, amusement, desire or sadness) or a neutral emotional state. Participants were then presented with a challenging goal.
Data was also analyzed from a series of surveys collected during the 2016 and 2020 U.S. presidential elections. Prior to the elections, people were asked to rate how angry they would be if their favorite candidate did not win. Afterward, they reported it they voted and for whom. Perhaps not surprisingly participants who signaled they’d be angry if their candidate didn’t win were more likely to vote. Anger, however, had no effect on which candidate they voted for.
“These findings demonstrate that anger increases effort toward attaining a desired goal, frequently resulting in greater success,” said Lench.
Anger was an especially effective motivator for spurring people to reach for and achieve challenging goals. Getting mad didn’t have a great impact on securing easier goals, Leach noted.
Ulitmately, the research suggests that emotions that may be seen as negative—think anger, boredom or sadness—can be useful or not beneficial.
“People often prefer to use positive emotions as tools more than negative and tend to see negative emotions as undesirable and maladaptive,” she said. “Our research adds to the growing evidence that a mix of positive and negative emotions promotes well-being, and that using negative emotions as tools can be particularly effective in some situations.”
Uncontrollable or excessive anger is not advised. Chronic anger can do a lot of physical and mental health damage. One study published by the national Institute of Health warns it can lead to central adiposity and type 2 diabetes. It can also result in heightened inflammation, heart disease, reduced lung function, chronic pain, digestive problems and skin flare-ups, according to Self.
It can also lead to frustration, anxiety, rage, stress, guilt and just plain irritability, which means a little anger applied in the right circumstances may be beneficial. Overwhelming madness, however, needs to be contained.