Can anger be a force for good? - Happy + Well : Happy + Well

Can anger be a force for good?

Written by on June 11, 2015 in Happiness, Relationships, Wellness with 0 Comments

anger“Anger can sometimes work well for you,” Dr Robert Biswas-Diener says. “It’s just preparing you for action, as a response to threats,” he says. He tells us about a time when his wife flipped out at a dinner party when her guests bad-mouthed a racial minority, and how proud he was of her anger.

“That’s not anger, that’s compassion,” Venerable Robina Courtin says. “Anger is a wish to harm people.”

Moderator Natasha Mitchell wants to know what’s beneficial about anger.

“Angry people tend to be more optimistic,” Dr Biswas-Diener says. In acting from their anger, they think it will lead to positive outcomes.

For Gretchen Rubin, anger is a warning sign for other needs that must be met: getting something to eat, or righting a wrong, for example. It can also be a sign that we’re not living up to our expectations for ourselves.

However, anger can get in the way of doing good.

Sue Langley says that being able to use emotions intelligently can help people bring their anger down and introduce a sense of compassion when addressing issues – rather than exploding in anger.

“Anger is the response when attachment doesn’t get what it wants. Attachment is a junkie for the nice things,” Ven. Robina says. She refers to the Dalai Lama, who said that action from anger doesn’t last, but action from compassion goes on forever.

“You’re really advanced when you give up anger,” she says. Ven. Robina says that your decisions are often misguided when you’re propelled by anger.

Natasha refers to Ven. Robina’s work in prisons, and how these prisoners must have experienced the effects of anger in their lives.

“They say there are more wackos out of prison than in,” Ven. Robina replies.

Sue talks about the pause that allows people to not just launch into an angry response but to approach interactions with compassion because you care about your relationship with that person.

The Discomfort Caveat, Dr Biswas-Diener says, is when something is important to express, even if we can’t express it in the exact right words – it’s about asking people to pay more attention to the meaning of what we’re saying than getting hung up on the way we’ve said it.

Gretchen says that people need to use the basic tool of putting yourself in the shoes of another person before you lose your self-command – this habit acts as a brake and helps prevent making matters worse.

Anger has been a great moving force for many major social movements, Natasha says.

Ven. Robina says that Martin Luther King told us it’s okay to be angry, but the next thing you must ask is, “What can I do to help?” This is compassion, she says. It might look like anger but it’s the courage to act, the wish to make things better.

Something may look like a violent act, like damaging property of the State, but what matters is the motivation.

“Is that a slippery slope?” Dr Biswas-Diener asks.

“Yes, but you have to start somewhere,” Ven. Robina jokes. She adds that the best approach is the peaceful method.

When we’re in an angry state, we have fuel for our body but not our minds, Sue says.

“You’ve got to channel its energy and power for the good,” Gretchen adds.


This panel was presented at Happiness & Its Causes 2015.


Gretchen Rubin USA, thought-provoking and influential writer on happiness, author of New York Times best-seller The Happiness Project
Dr Robert Biswas-Diener, USA, widely known as the ‘Indiana Jones of positive psychology’ because of his research in Greenland, India, Kenya, Israel and other countries
Robina Courtin, USA & Australia, riveting teacher, inspiring Buddhist nun and Founder of Liberation Prison Project
Sue Langley, master trainer, researcher and international expert on the practical applications of positive psychology, neuroscience and emotional intelligence
Natasha Mitchell, 
award-winning science journalist and presenter of  Life Matters on ABC Radio National



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