Posts tagged: emotional

Anger Management

Business Logo for Psychological and Neuropsychological IssuesThe word “anger” is strangely intimidating.  It is not uncommon to observe someone in a rage, yet deny they are angry.  A common response is “I’m just frustrated.”  Most people do not want to be labelled as angry, and refuse to label themselves as such.  Labeling another person as angry is rarely taken as a friendly gesture.  It is typically interpreted as an accusation.  Even if the intention is centered on the welfare of the other person,  the response is to deny or escalate.  It is difficult to imagine a friendly way to qualify someone as angry.

A professor once told the author “We are all angry, it is a question of when and where it is displayed.”  This quote portrays anger as a universal human phenomenon.  The perception of anger will change based upon the situation in which it is displayed.  Heads will be more likely to turn at an art gallery than at a sporting event.  Cultural and socioeconomic factors will alter how people perceive and interpret anger in other people.  Overt displays of anger may be tolerated in Rome, but eschewed in Milan. Tooting the car horn is almost expected in Manhattan, but it is an invitation to fight in Chicago.  Displays of anger in the upper classes are often viewed as indicative of low class behavior.  There is greater acceptance of angry behavior in the lower classes than those above.  Displays of anger in the upper class may lower one’s status, yet the same display in the lower class may elevate one’s status.

The physiological response of anger is often triggered by failed expectations.  Modern call centers often trigger anger by failing to provide an easy interface, a timely response, or a person who speaks the same language.  Since we are paying for a good or service, there is an expectation of a timely and coherent response to our questions.  Most people expect their children to be cooperative and do well in school.  When they fail parental expectations, anger or sadness is the result.  We expect significant others will support us and not betray our confidence.  When they fail to meet these expectations, anger or sadness is the result.  Consider the experience of being abandoned by someone you love.  Thoughts of the good times will engender sadness.  Thoughts of the bad times will engender anger.  Anger is often preceded or proceeded by sadness.

Is the lowering of one’s expectations the way to rid oneself of anger?  Not really.  Decreased expectations of others and oneself will decrease the occurrences of angry reactions.  It will not rid oneself of anger.  To rid oneself of anger is not possible, or even desirable.  Appropriate anger may change the behavior of oneself or others in a positive fashion.  Having no expectations of one’s children will decrease discord, but it may also breed sloth and disrespect.  Accepting substandard services from a company will be easier than arguing, but may cost the person additional money and reinforce the company’s poor performance.  There is a delicate balance between expectation, anger and acceptance.

Perhaps the acceptance of anger is best exemplified by a story.  Many years ago, the wife of a Russian diplomat overheard an American woman decry the anger expressed by American males.  She turned to face the American woman.  She explained that all the angry young men left their warm beds to fight Napoleon, and none came back.  When Hitler threatened to destroy her country, the angry young men left their warm beds to fight once again, and none came back.  She cautioned the American woman.  The next time the she heard a bump in the night, perhaps the American woman would appreciate these angry young men.  Said another way, do not be too quick to condemn all angry reactions.  There are positive and negative aspects to all human emotions.  The consequence(s) of an emotional display may be more important than the particular emotion displayed.

Happy-What Does That Mean?

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The primary meaning of happiness, according to the dictionary, is to be favored by luck or fortune.  The third most common usage of the word suggests well-being and contentment.  It is likely that  Tom Jefferson and Ben Franklin meant the latter rather than the former.  The Bill of Rights proclaims that it is a god-given mandate to be happy. It appears that happiness is a good thing.  Unfortunately, happiness is often regarded as a state of being, rather than a label one places on their emotions.

If happiness is considered as a mood state, it should also be considered time-limited.  Emotions ebb and flow throughout days and weeks, and happiness is a qualitative label to describe the flow.  Mood is conceptualized as the average of emotions across time.  One may feel anger and happiness in extremes throughout a difficult day, but the overall rating of one’s mood may not change significantly.  Affects are the facial expressions indicating emotions to others on an immediate basis, and summing these over time reveals mood.  For example, a surly mechanic may inspire an angry affect, but the injured party’s mood will return to baseline after the incident.  Affect is typically fleeting, and mood is considered the emotional baseline.

Aristotle believed that happiness is the only human activity pursued for its own sake.  People pursue health, wealth, and power in order to be happy; as a means to an end, and not an end unto itself.  Happiness could be considered as a goal of behavior.  Jefferson was an ardent admirer of Aristotle, and likely influenced his thinking on the subject.  Happiness for Aristotle was not just a label for an emotion, but described the behavior of one who acts in accord with their virtuous nature.  When the purpose(s) inherent in our nature are fulfilled, we may be labeled “happy.”

A realistic definition of happiness incorporates the behavioral features of Aristotle, combined with modern knowledge of the brain.  While mood is considered the baseline, this does not mean the base is stationary.  When we accomplish a goal that is considered important, the affect is one of happiness.  Goals may be a manifestation of purposes inherent in our nature, but this is not necessary the case.  It is a modern certainty that environment plays a huge part in developing our “natures,” and the process continues throughout our lives.  How people define “virtuous” and their “nature” changes throughout the lifespan.  Consider that we are born as a book, and others may write in it as they please.  We may edit and filter, but graffiti will influence the copy.  Our genes define the size, shape and quality of the binding, yet the content is a joint venture.  To construct a modern theory of happiness is to realize that goals are products of genes shaped by experience- filtered through the prism of immediate need.

To be happy is to accomplish a goal.  The goal must be consistent with what we consider to be justified and necessary.  It must be meaningful to the person.  A state of happiness necessarily ebbs until a new goal is accomplished.  Happiness is less a mood state than an emotional reaction to the attainment of a goal.  It medicates a sense of stagnation by obtaining an assurance of progress.  Happiness cannot be pursued for its own sake.  We pursue happiness through our goals.  The Bill of Rights was correct in writing the “pursuit of happiness,” since it is never the object of lasting attainment.  If your goal was to read this post, I hope you’re happy.

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