I once read that anger is like drinking poison, and hoping that the other person dies.
How do we conquer anger? Here are some personal remedies that have helped me:
1. Do the opposite of anger
Apparently when Socrates was angry, he would lower his voice, smile, and stop looking stern — essentially, moving in the opposite direction of anger.
I try to do the same. When I’m angry, I learn how to shut up, talk less, and quieter.
I have heard that if you start to (force) yourself to smile; you actually feel better. When I’m pissed off, it is hard for me to smile. So I usually go to the bathroom, look at myself in the mirror– and see how disgusting I look with the frown in my face, and my overall gloomy look — almost animal-like.
I then try to force myself to smile, grin, and when I’m interacting with Cindy or anyone — I still talk, but in short responses.
Therefore I don’t eliminate the feeling of anger immediately, but I let it slowly dissipate, and I certainly try not to say anything that I might regret.
2. Prevent getting in situations that make you angry
One of the best ways to conquer anger is to prevent anger in the first place.
I know that there are certain situations that piss me off. Like watching the news, looking at my Facebook news feed (things tend to be posted about politics that piss me off), or YouTube comments.
Therefore, one of the best solutions to overcome anger is to prevent is by setting up road-blocks for yourself, or like Ulysses did— block your ears with wax (before being tempted by the Sirens).
For example, in Plutarch’s essay “On Anger” — he tells how this one famous lawyer used to enter the court-room with wax in his ears, to prevent getting angry (based on what others would tell him).
I know for myself — I try to do the same. I don’t read YouTube comments (I’m sorry friends— but unfortunately, the trolls inflict too much damage at times). I use the Safari plugin ‘Shut Up’ which blocks comments on most websites. This has given me so much more peace of mind. It is like a pop-up/advertisement blocker for superfluous comments on the web.
I also have used ‘Facebook News Feed Blocker’ for Safari— that hides my Facebook news feed. Much more zen.
3. Give others benefit of the doubt
Another thing that helps me — I always give people benefit of the doubt.
For example, I attribute the negative action people do unto me as an act of ignorance — kind of how like a child acts spitefully towards their parents. The child simply doesn’t know any better.
Often people react emotionally (irrationally). But we are human being, it is what we do. I read a fable by Aesop which read something like: you can’t blame the sea for causing sailors to shipwreck. Rather, you blame the winds (emotions).
Also often people hurt us by accident. Like if we are walking on the streets, and someone accidentally bumps into us because they are texting-while-walking. They didn’t mean to do it.
Even now, whenever Cindy says something which I perceive to be an insult— I pretend like it isn’t. I assume that she said something to be helpful, useful, or to give me ‘positive’ criticism. This takes away a lot of the negative sting and harm.
4. “Have I done the same unto others?”
Whenever someone does something to piss me off (cut me off in traffic, say something mean, or do something mean to me) — I think to myself:
Have I done this myself?
99% of the time it is yes.
I have cut people off in traffic, because I was late to an appointment. I have talked shit about others behind their back. I have done spiteful (petty) things to Cindy.
So who am I to blame others, and get angry at others, when I have done the same?
Apparently Plato had his own version, he would say to himself the he was angry:
“Am I not like that too?”
5. I knew it
This is a nice quote I got from Plutarch, on his essay ‘On Anger’:
If you are angry at your friend, just tell yourself: “I knew it”:
“‘I knew my friend was not flawless’ / ‘I knew my wife was a woman’ / ‘I knew I had fathered a mortal’”
“I knew my friend was not flawless”: your friends aren’t (and never will be) perfect. You need to expect them to piss you off every once in a while.
“I knew my wife was a woman”: sexist, but the truth is that women have certain hormonal changes that don’t affect men as intensely. I don’t blame Cindy when she feels shitty during her cycles. I hear going through cycles is like getting constantly punched in the gut — shit, that would be horrible to experience.
“I knew I had fathered a mortal”: in-case your children die. Apparently one of Plutarch’s friends told himself this, after his son died as a child.
If you expect the worst to always happen, and always are prepared for the worst, you are never caught off-guard.
6. Don’t nit-pick
It is easy to get angry over petty stuff. The coffee isn’t warm enough. The food is over-cooked. The Uber driver got lost and is taking forever to pick me up.
Or even petty stuff— the wifi is too slow, I am stuck in traffic, or my boss/partner said something mean to me.
I feel that 99% of the things that piss me off (at least in the everyday) are petty things. Why do I let petty things get to me? Because I have a weak mind.
I try to remind myself to be magnanimous — an ancient work that reminds us of grandeur, strength, and stamina.
Someone who is a ‘magnanimous’ person doesn’t allow anything petty to bother them. Like imagine yourself a giant beast— others trying to yell or criticize you are like little puppies, trying to bite you. Or if you’re wearing an armor plated with diamonds— people are trying to shoot their (puny) wooden arrows at you, which bounce off your chest laughingly.
It also means to be easily pleased. To have no big preferences in life. To not be overly picky with your food, coffee, lifestyle, clothing, car, camera, devices, or anything else. The fewer preferences we have, the less likely we are to feel upset, angry, or petty.
7. Don’t be nosy
There has always been (and always will be) gossipers, who say things negatively behind our back. People will always say negative things about others. Being critical of others is like our national past-time.
I used to be very curious what everyone thought of me. I wanted everyone to like me. When I heard someone was talking crap about me behind my back, I wanted to know all the details.
But as of late I picked up a useful saying from the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. When Epictetus’ friend would tell him that someone was saying something bad about him behind his back, he would say:
Surely if that person knew me any better, he wouldn’t have only mentioned this!
Which means in today’s English:
I’m surprised that they’re only insulting me about this (single) flaw I have. If that person knew me any better, they would insult me about the (many more) faults I have.
It is pretty much admitting that you are a fallible human being, that you are imperfect, and allowing yourself some (positive) self-deprecating humor. If you are the first to make fun of yourself, nobody can make fun of you.
So poke fun at yourself.
In the past, I have made fun of myself by saying I have a small dick (this worked well in high school). Make fun of your bank account — how small it is. Make fun of your fashion size. Make fun of how fat or ugly you are.
If you make fun of yourself, nobody can make fun of you.
So avoid trivial matters; avoid gossip, avoid the tabloids, and avoid (almost all) the news. It is almost all trivial.
8. Think about death
If you treated today like it were your last day on earth, would you waste even a minute or an hour on being angry?
For example, the other day I was angry at Cindy over some petty matter. Before we went to bed, I was still feeling angry. Yet I thought to myself, “If this is the last time I saw Cindy, would I regret it?” I thought so. Therefore (even though I was angry), I told Cindy:
Cindy, I just want to let you know that you’re the best. I’m so blessed to have you in my life.
I treated it like she was going to die tonight. Or maybe that I was going to die tonight. Would I want to die, with poison (anger) in my heart? Or for it to be full of gratitude?
I still went to sleep (kind of) angry/upset. But my heart felt a lot lighter. And soon, came the sweet sleep. Until I woke up today at around 4:30am-5am (have no idea why). Perhaps it was motivation to write this.
Anyways, fuck anger. It is seriously the worst emotion that has existed in humans. It has caused genocide, war, and killed people literally and mentally.
I follow in the footsteps of my Stoic masters in believing that anger is a sickness in the mind, that has no practical use of us today. Maybe in the past when we were (more) like wild beasts. But I think that we should use our powers of reason, to overcome and conquer anger— to fill our hearts with more happiness, gratitude, and love.
Above all, you need to always practice against anger. I’m actually not a very hot-tempered person, but when I get angry, I feel my sinews clench, my jaw tighten, my breathing increase, my fists clench, and the fumes coming from my body. It is horrible. I also never want to do or say anything that I will regret.
So let us practice each day against anger; and conquer it, before it conquers us.
Learn More Stoicism >
Become invincible against fate:
- How to Bounce Back in Life
- How to Overcome Resistance
- Nothing Unlimited is Good; Nothing Good is Unlimited
- You Have No Limits
- Can 1’s and 0’s Hurt You?
- The Envious Moment is Flying Now
- Tomorrow We’ll Sail the Wide Seas Again
- How to Forgive Others
- Focus on Your Actions, Not the Results
- Everything Will Be Alright
- How to Be a Stoic Street Photographer
- How to Be a Spartan Photographer
- How to Overcome Your Fears in Life