Pursuing the Excellent Life
March 22, 2023

Why are people so angry (Five Minute Flourishing)

It seems like people are very angry these days. Everywhere you turn, airports (even airplanes!), restaurants, stores, traffic, social media ... anger just seems endless. Why is this so? In this episode, Craig discusses the anger phenomenon and what you can do about it.

Live Well and Flourish website: https://www.livewellandflourish.com/

The theme music for Live Well and Flourish was written by Hazel Crossler, hazel.crossler@gmail.com.

Production assistant - Paul Robert


Craig 00:00 

Welcome to Live Well and Flourish, I’m your host, Craig Van Slyke. In this short episode, I talk about the proliferation of anger in today’s world, and what you can do about it.


Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like there’s a lot of anger in the world today. To be frank, there are some pretty good reasons to be angry, I suppose, but generally I find anger to be a pretty counterproductive emotion. When I get mad, it saps my energy and concentration, and I almost always feel some regret afterwards. Yeah, sure, there are times for righteous anger, and handled the right way, a little anger CAN be productive but not if you seem like a lunatic! To really be effective anger needs to be controlled and expressed in a useful way, which isn’t always easy in the moment.


The media is full of examples of this anger, stories of outrageously unruly passengers on airplanes and in airports (I mean, who gets in a fight at an airport gate?), videos of people attacking fast food workers over cold fries (don't eat them, they're bad for you anyway). Convenience store customers tearing up displays. Road rage, even to the point of murder. What in the world is going on?


Craig 01:17 

My take is that much of the anger comes from uncertainty and a growing sense of frustration related to that uncertainty. Let's face it, we’re living in some very, very strange times. I'm pretty old and I've never seen anything like this. We got a true, global pandemic, the first one in 100 years. A major ground war in Europe, and it’s a war with potential nuclear implications. Rampant inflation for the first time in decades and out of control housing and food prices make the inflation fears even worse. A wild, uncertain stock market. An acrimonious and unclear political situation. All of this just piles uncertainty on uncertainty, and when we feel uncertain, we get stressed out and anxious, and when we get stressed out and anxious, a lot of times we get angry. And all of this is magnified by a constant barrage of media, both on social media and traditional outlets. It’s a lot, it's just a whole lot to deal with. When things feel out of control like this, it's pretty easy to experience a range of negative emotions, including anger, especially when external events seem to be the cause of the uncertainty and frustration. Anger can crop up when these external events seem unjust or unfair. When we believe we have no control over the source of our problems, we get mad. It's just a natural reaction if it's not kept in check. That’s the case with all of the craziness going on in the world. I didn’t cause it, so why am I being punished? Feels like it's pretty unfair. 

Craig 03:03  

Regardless of the root cause of all of the anger in the world, it can be useful to understand how to cope with it. As you can imagine, I have some thoughts. First, take care of your physical and mental well-being. Over the two years, or almost two years of this podcast, I’ve had a lot to say about how to do this, so I won’t go into details here. I’ll just say that when you’re mentally and physically healthy, it’s much easier to deal with life’s challenges, which will not only reduce your own anger, it will make you more resilient to others’ anger as well.


Limiting your exposure to media can also help. Although it may not be practical (or even advisable) to completely cut yourself off from media, you can probably cut back and you can certainly make an effort to reduce your exposure to posts and stories that may trigger anger. Social media algorithms are especially dangerous. You watch one video of an anger-filled event and you're probably gonna see other videos, similar videos popping up in your feed.


Craig 04:05 

Here’s another bit of advice and I know this is going to sound trite, but when you catch yourself becoming angry, count to ten or take a few deep breaths … in through the nose, out through the mouth, in through the nose, out through the mouth … it’s amazing how calming this kind of deep breathing can be. You don't believe me? Try it the next time you get anxious or angry.


Also, try to be more aware of what triggers anger for you, then do what you can to either reduce your exposure to the triggers, or to become better at controlling your anger when the triggering events are unavoidable.


Finally, try to remember that although many things are beyond your control, you do have control over your opinions (with some practice). You may be able to reframe events or situations to reduce their negative effects on you. Psychologists call this cognitive reframing. For example, if a clerk is being really slow, instead of assuming that they’re purposely causing you inconvenience with their actions (or their lack of action), consider the possibility that they’re really tired or distracted due to some challenging event in their life, you know maybe they've got as a sick child or maybe they're having trouble paying the rent, I don't know. But it's not always about you, in fact a lot of times it really isn't about you at all. Realizing that can help you keep from reacting with anger.

Craig 05:27 

Another good approach is to ask yourself how important this thing is in the overall scheme of your life … bad traffic, discourteous drivers, delayed flights, whatever … usually at the end of the day, it’s no big deal, and you only make it a big deal if you react badly. The chances are that whatever you’re going through in the moment will have few long-term consequences.


Remember, life is short, don’t waste a second of it being unnecessarily angry. It’s just not worth the cost, especially since getting mad probably won’t accomplish a single solitary thing.

Alright, that's it for now. Talk to you next time. Thanks.