August 21, 2021 - The Stoic Gym Blog
Sixteen Best Ways to Outsmart Anger
Ancient Stoics recognized anger to be a destructive emotion. Seneca said, “No plague has cost the human race more.” While we may feel good while expressing anger, most of us don’t like being angry and we don’t generally like being around people who are angry. Anger usually makes things worse, not better. As Buddha put it, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison expecting the other person to die.”
So how do we avoid being angry? Here are sixteen ways to do so, based on the writings of the ancient Stoics (mostly Marcus Aurelius, but also Seneca and Epictetus).
1. Recognize it is your opinion that is making you angry.
We often think it is the other person’s action that is making us angry. But, in fact, it is our opinion of their actions that is making us angry. Suppose someone calls you an idiot. Instead of becoming angry you can just ignore him: “After all it is his opinion. I am not an idiot because he thinks I am one. If he thinks I am an elephant I am not going to be an elephant and I am not going to be upset. Why should I get upset because he thinks I am an idiot?” If you are angry because you are stood up, remember it is your opinion that you should not be stood up that’s making you angry. You can get rid of your anger simply by changing your mind about things — ”It’s no big deal if I am stood up”.
2. Recognize anger has consequences.
The first flush of anger feels good. When we vent our anger, we feel elated and righteous. But what we fail to recognize is that anger has consequences. It can damage our reputation. But our anger can have legal, moral or material consequences. Before you express your anger, take a moment to understand the consequences of expressing it.
3. Recognize your anger hurts you more than the thing that made you angry.
Count the costs of being angry. When you do, you may see that the costs of being angry are far higher than the costs of being calm, even when you think you have reason to be angry. Anger adds to the damage you suffered much more than the act that caused you to be angry.
4. Recognize that the person who makes you angry is not that different from you.
When we are angry with someone, it may be a good idea to reflect that we are not very different from each other. As human beings, we all do things for similar reasons. Two people may want to be happy, but one may think their happiness comes from hoarding money and the other may think their happiness comes from helping others. Why be angry with another person who is doing what we are doing, only differently?
5. Think of the times you have done things that are similar to what the other person has done.
When we are angry about something, we don’t realize that we have done similar things in the past. If we think back we will see that we acted in a similar way in the past. We justify our behavior but fail to see ourselves in others.
6. Recognize that if the other person is wrong, they suffer the consequences, not you.
Leave the other person alone to face the consequences of their actions. On the other hand, if you become angry, you have to face the consequences of your anger.
7. Recognize that the other person is ignorant.
If someone deliberately wrongs you, it means the person is ignorant. An ignorant person deserves your understanding or pity and not your anger.
8. Recognize that your anger is contrary to Nature.
Anger is against another person. But we are like different organs of the body made to work with each other, not against. If you have a headache, you don’t get angry with your head because it is part of your body. Similarly, if someone hurts you, you don’t have to get angry with that person. We are part of the same society; it is contrary to Nature for one part to work against another.
9. Recognize that your anger may be unjust.
Justice needs accurate judgment, based on all facts. When we are angry, we don’t usually have all the facts. We act on our ‘impressions’ without examining them before responding. A colleague who ignored you when you greeted him may have been just diagnosed with something serious. Someone who ignores your friendly gestures may not be hostile but shy.
10. Recognize your anger may be due to your faulty self-perception.
Very often our anger is generated by a sense of entitlement. We are angry if someone disrespects us because we feel entitled to respect. We are angry at the government because we pay too much in taxes because we feel entitled to pay less in taxes. We won’t be angry when we realize we are not entitled to anything external to us.
11. Recognize that you have the power to endure.
We get angry because we can’t ‘stand it anymore’. But you have the resources to cope with the situation without getting angry. Think of your internal resources such as endurance and patience. Use them. You don’t have to act helpless and be pushed around either by what others have done or by your own anger.
12. Realize what others do is not under your control but what you do is under your control.
Whatever someone says to make us angry is not under our control. Whether we want to be angry about it or not is under our control. If we want to be happy, it is pointless to try to control what is not under our control. We will be much better off to control what is truly under our control.
13. Recognize that everything has two handles.
When we are angry we think our anger is the only way to handle the situation. But that is not true. There’s always another way to handle the situation. For example, if a friend says something that hurts you, you are angry with him. But there is another handle. That handle may be a thought like “He has been a good friend for so long. What he did hurts. But, if I am honest, I can see that I have hurt others too.” This handle will diffuse your anger.
14. Recognize that life is short.
Both you and the person you are angry with will be dead soon enough. See things in perspective. Do you want to waste your life being angry even for a minute?
15. Avoid people and situations that arouse your anger.
This is not a true solution to anger. However, until you become strong enough to avoid anger, avoid people and situations that quickly provoke anger in you. But eventually, the true solution to anger is to avoid anger under all conditions, not just avoid people and situations that provoke anger in you.
16. Develop a contrary habit.
Anger can become a habit. Once you are angry it gets easier to get angry the next time. How do you get out of the habit of anger (or avoid it becoming a habit)? Epictetus has some good advice here: Develop a contrary habit. For example, laughter is a contrary habit because you cannot laugh and be angry at the same time. So, whenever you are angry, find something funny in the situation and smile about it. Or you can simply laugh at your own self-importance expressed as anger.