The philosopher Aristotle certainly thought that anger was good for a person. In the "Nicomachean Ethics," he wrote, "The man who is angry at the right things and with the right people, and further, as he ought, when he ought, and as long as he ought, is praised." But Aristotle didn't have to live in a world where newspapers linked anger to heart disease. He never saw David Banner become the Incredible Hulk, with Banner turning into a giant green monster as the result of his anger. Aristotle never sat on a highway surrounded by drivers with road rage.
Today, many of us see anger as a negative emotion that doesn't serve any purpose. In one study that asked participants about anger, 28 percent of respondents said that their anger was inappropriate, because anger is generally harmful or useless [source: Weber]. We may not like ourselves when we're angry, and we certainly don't enjoy being around other angry people.
Yet, as with most things, Aristotle is right. Anger can be good for you because it's designed to protect us, our relationships and our way of seeing the world. In the everlasting battle between right and wrong, the bodily effects of anger are meant to tell us that something's wrong.
We go through the world with goals and expectations. Some of these goals and expectations are personal -- we expect to get ahead with hard work, and we expect our significant others not to forget our birthdays. Some of these expectations are shaped by societal standards; we expect everyone to wait in line for their turn with a bank teller. When something violates our expectations or blocks our goals, then we get angry.
Think of anger as your own personal police force or sheriff, riding into town when injustice has been done. The sheriff sends out police bulletins to the effect of, "Hey, that's not right. That's not how we do business around here." That guy is going to show up. There's really no way to not get angry.
But if he's showing up for the right reasons, and if he deals with the situation in the right way, then getting angry can be good for you. If he sits down with the perp and has a productive conversation about how to solve the problem, then anger is doing its job. On the other hand, if you've got a reckless vigilante who shoots every time he gets angry, or a cowardly police academy dropout that can't even fire a gun, then anger is not very productive. As with chocolate cake, anger has to be regulated with moderation.
Confused by all this talk of police officers and chocolate cake? Well, check out the next page, where we'll look at some concrete examples of how anger can be a positive force.