Hah. It’s really quite preposterous for me to offer up a tips list on this subject. A tendency to fly off the handle is one of my most disagreeable and persistent traits, and something I battle with – largely unsuccessfully – every day. For me, anger is the most tempting of the seven deadly sins. At best, you could describe me as "edgy."
This list shows the strategies I try to use to keep myself patient and mild-mannered, but I certainly can’t claim that they’ve been wholly successful. I still lose my temper far too often; however, I do think I’m doing a better job than I would be if I weren’t following these tips:
1. Pay attention to my body. Being too cold, too hot, and especially being too hungry, makes me far more irritable.
2. Don’t drink. I basically gave up drinking because alcohol makes me so belligerent.
3. Acknowledge the reality of other people’s feelings (usually this arises with my husband or daughters). Instead of snapping back answers like “I don’t want to hear a lot of whining” or “It’s not that big a deal,” I try to show that I understand what someone is saying.
4. Be realistic. For instance, I often get irritated when someone interrupts me when I’m reading -- but I should know better than to try to read the newspaper during my daughters’ Saturday morning breakfast. Of course I’m going to get interrupted.
5. Don’t expect praise or appreciation. I often feel irritated when someone (usually my husband) doesn’t notice and praise some effort on my part. For example, when I went out of town last week, I got my older daughter completely organized for a field trip before I left. I snapped at my husband because he didn’t appreciate this Herculean accomplishment on my part.
6. Squelch my reaction. Not expressing anger often allows it to dissipate. I have trouble with this in person, but often manage to do it if it involves email; the deliberate effort of writing an irritated email often gives me the opportunity to decide not to send it. I find it tougher to bite back an angry retort -- but I’m working on it. When I can manage, acting the way I want to feel always helps me to change my feelings.
7. Make a joke. Okay, some of these strategies are more fantasy than reality, but on the rare occasion when I do manage to make a joke during a moment of irritation, it works beautifully to lighten the mood.
8. Try not to be defensive. Many of my most harsh reactions are triggered by some kind of accusation – that I did something wrong, that I did something rude, that I screwed up in some way. If I can admit to fault, or let it go, I can lighten my anger. My anger is tied to my pride, and pride is something I've been thinking a lot about lately.
In my case, as this list shows, anger stems from a tendency toward perfectionism. I want to control things, have events unfold exactly as I want, have people behave exactly as I direct, and get lots of credit for everything I do. Surprise! That’s not how the world works.
What strategies have I missed? What helps you defuse anger and irritability? I need more help!
My friend and blogging mentor Jonathan Fields has two excellent blogs: Awake at the Wheel, which has a lot of great material of general interest, and Career Renegade, which is more focused on work and career. Jonathan's book, Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love, has gotten a lot of buzz.
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. Also, people who want to start happiness-project groups have started to post their cities, so if you're interested in joining or starting a group, look there.