The Happiness Project

A Constructive Way To Deal With Anger

One of my personal major, constant happiness challenges is trying to deal constructively with feelings of anger and irritability . Yesterday morning, my father-in-law mentioned a strategy that he recommends: When a person does something that annoys him (or whatever the negative emotion might be), he recalls a situation in which he made the same mistake himself. That makes him less angry, more understanding.

This strategy doesn’t work well for everyone, however. Some people, my father-in-law observed, are able to do this effectively, but for others, the recognition that they’ve behaved similarly doesn’t translate into greater understanding or forgiveness. And a third category isn’t able to see any parallels at all—to these folks, they must have had a good reason to have acted the way they did, and the mistakes others make are inexcusable.

I tried to apply this strategy myself. Here’s a small thing, but a recurrent source of anger in my life: My husband’s failure to answer my e-mails dealing with logistics. “Can we have dinner with so-and-so on June 22?” “Do you leave for London on the 3rd or the 4th?” “Did you reschedule the orthodontist’s appointment?” These e-mails just don’t get answered. It drives me nuts.

I’ve tackled this problem in lots of ways. I’ve tried working on the logistical side, and I’ve tried working on my mental-attitude side. But I had never thought to try to put myself in my husband’s place and ask myself, “Do I fail to answer people’s logistical e-mails?” The answer to that question is a resounding yes . I often procrastinate on doing exactly this kind of work. I just can’t face the kind of systematic thinking, checking, and replying that it takes.

OK. I think I do understand better now. Does it makes me less angry? Actually, I think it does. It also reminds me that I should do a better job of answering other people’s logistical e-mails.

* Penelope Trunk has a fascinating post about how to decide where to live . This is a complicated, difficult, and extremely important decision that has a lot of significance for your happiness.

* Considering doing your own happiness project or have some ideas to share? Join the discussions on the Facebook Page to swap insights, strategies, and experiences.