I just returned from a 3-day conference in Philadelphia sponsored by the International Positive Psychology Association. The positive psychology movement is about ten years old but has really “taken off” in the last year or so. It is about scientific research related to concepts like optimism, happiness, resilience, courage, love, achievement, and goodness. The emphasis is on helping people develop positive traits or enhancing what is right and good rather than focusing on fixing what is wrong with a person. The movement believes that we are not so much victims of our past as we are motivated by being pulled into what we want in the future.
Being an anger management expert, my listening at the conference was mostly how all this fits into anger management. Would developing “happiness” or “well-being” skills decrease anger? Can a positive emotion like happiness offset a negative emotion like anger? Rather than trying NOT to be angry, should we instead focus on skills to be happy?
As is the case with most things in psychology, the answers to these questions is probably “it depends.” For some people, practicing and mastering happiness skills probably WILL make them less angry. For others, anger might be very situation specific so that they could be happy in most areas of life, but still have anger in a specific area of life (like in their marriage).
To see which category you fall in, I would recommend starting with a happiness skill that almost all happiness experts recommend- expressing gratitude. This is defined as “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation of life.” Research clearly shows that those who count their blessings on a regular basis become happier as a result. It is simple to do; once a week, simply write down in a journal or log what you are grateful for that week. Seems to work better if you only do it once a week, rather than every day. If you have an Iphone or Itouch, you can even download a free app that allows you to keep a gratitude journal.
Sounds simple-minded, but sometimes simpler things are amazingly effective. Try it, keep track of both your happiness and your levels of anger, and see if this works for you!