License to Rage: Getting Mad Is Good for You!


Angry? You’re gonna like this one. Studies show that getting pissed and being vocal about it is just as vital to a healthy life as being calm and professional, feeling content now and again, and/or getting your regular intake of food and water and/or wine. According to a recent piece in the New York Times, people who are too cool and in control all the time may lack some important skills that the rest of us have: namely, the ability to go batshit.

Okay, there’s batshit-batshit, and there’s sane-batshit. The first is not good for anyone. But the second — the ability to express your anger without actually pounding anyone to a pulp — seems to help people form bonds and communicate. And people who don’t get mad ever may isolate themselves, largely because they seem like aliens to the rest of us rage-prone folk.

“One reason we’re so attuned to others’ emotions is that, when it’s a real emotion, it tells us something important about what matters to that person,” said James J. Gross, a psychologist at Stanford University. When it’s suppressed or toned down, he added, “people think, damn it, you’re not like us, you don’t care about the same things we do.”

Suppressing your rage or inappropriate amusement (thank you, dear friend who laughed hysterically when I walked into a door yesterday) is valuable in certain situations, but not in all. In fact, it can have “social costs” — those who suppress their emotions the most have trouble making friends, for instance, and maintaining relationships.

This blogger is reminded of a fight she had one night with an ex-ex-ex (at the time not an ex) in which her normally crystal-clear and placid demeanor was broken by some ridiculous accusation. The relationship then dragged on for at least another week on the foundation of her “caring enough to yell.” (In hindsight, this was more than a clue, and certainly evidence as to the power of rage, presuming you use it wisely.)

The lesson: If you tend to be calm, patient, and cool-as-a-cucumber (the example of endless stoicism in the Times piece is President Obama, even though we think he’s probably pretty scary when peeved), you may need some practice in getting angry. Here’s a tip: Wait in a really long, slow-moving gas station bathroom line, and then have someone ask, preferably rudely, to let their pregnant wife cut in front of you and six others, including the elderly and children. Or just stand outside in the 100 degree heat for a few minutes. You’ll be expressing anger in no time.

For inspiration, here’s Tyra, who is pretty much the guru of getting pissed.