The Surprising Way To Make Anger Healthy

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
The last time you got angry or anxious, how did you deal? Chances are, you tried to sidestep the negative vibes and get on with your day. Many of us cope by slapping on a happy face — but researchers say this may not be the best approach. There’s a reason we evolved millions of years and still continue to experience emotions such as guilt, anxiety, and envy: They tell us something is off. It turns out you shouldn’t actually ignore negative emotions; instead, you should use them to fuel positive change.

“All feelings, good or bad, are like a built-in GPS that gives us information and feedback. But, the negative ones in particular signal that we need to make tweaks to our behavior, reactions, environment, or relationships,” explains Todd Kashdan, PhD, a professor of psychology at George Mason University and co-author of the new book, The Upside of Your Darkside. “The most successful people in life are able to use and respond to all emotions — a skill called emotional agility.” Emotionally agile people can experience pain or discomfort while also figuring out what these feelings are telling them, so they can adjust and continue to move toward their goals.

The point is not to be intentionally miserable or angry, nor is it to push aside the bad when it creeps up. “We should want to be happy and positive most of the time, but it’s not realistic or helpful to be to be so 100% of the time,” Dr. Kashdan says. “There’s no strict formula, but most people function best when they’re at about a 80/20 or 75/25 ratio of positive to less positive,” he says.

Click through for five negative emotions you may want to start paying attention to — and how to channel them into something valuable.