I just walked past a shop window and saw a book, titled “For every minute you’re angry, you lose 60 seconds of being happy”. I stopped walking. Snowflakes were landing in my hair, and I could feel my nose beginning to turn red with cold, but I was struck by something in that book title so I stood there for a few minutes considering it.
In some of my unhappier times, I have spent time reading messages about forgiveness. I have pored over poems about happiness and healing. I have imagined myself as the person who forgives people for her own happiness, who finds healing in it, who does not spend time being angry. I have equated anger with a disease, with toxicity festering inside me, making me unwell.
But the problem with those poems, and with that book title, is that they presuppose that your anger is toxic. They presuppose that you have the luxury of being able to forgive people at will, to let go, to just refocus your energy on being happy. They presuppose that healing is linear. They presuppose that anger cannot be productive.
I went to someone recently and told them I thought that I was going crazy, that there were two people inside me - one who was well-adjusted, and happy, and healed, and one who was bitter, and angry, and terrified. The second self, who I tried so hard to repress in my pursuit of linear healing, in my pursuit of happiness, would occasionally burst out of me at inopportune moments. I’d have an argument with someone and have an urge to smash something, to scream. The rage really scared me. Anger, especially that kind of unbridled rage, was not something which I associated with myself. I was well-adjusted, kind, capable of forgiveness, capable of being happy all the time. I could choose not to be angry. So why did I feel like I was losing it? Why did I feel like I wasn’t in control?
The person that I told this listened impassively. She seemed vaguely concerned, but I had expected her to be terrified. I had expected her to tell me I needed serious help, that I had lost my mind. She said “All of these feelings are normal. You are allowed to have them. You are an emotional person, who feels things, and trying not to feel them is what is causing this. You repress and repress and repress and it suddenly bursts out of you. Allow yourself to feel. Allow yourself to be angry.”
I was shocked. Allowing myself to be angry was not something I could reconcile with being a happy person, with being someone who was healed. But the problem was that I could not differentiate between the two different kinds of anger. There is the anger which eats you alive, which keeps you awake at night. The anger which makes you into a person which you are not, which festers, which makes you jaded and bitter. Then there is another kind of anger. A productive anger. An anger which drives you forwards, which helps you to heal, which helps you to realise things about yourself, which helps you to process when something awful happens because it makes you angry that it happened, it makes you realise that it was not your fault.
Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes things come out of nowhere and knock you off your feet for a second. Sometimes there is a pressure to get straight back up, to find your happiness again, to ignore it. There is a pressure to forgive too soon, to avoid processing your feelings because you are avoiding the negative in the pursuit of the positive.
For every 60 seconds I spend allowing myself to be angry, allowing the feelings to come, to help me process, I have another 60 or 600 or 6000 seconds of being able to be happy without repression. I have a motivation to move forwards. I have a sense of my rights as a person, of my boundaries. I am calmer, I am kinder, I am happier. I am able to harness the productivity of my rage without allowing it to consume me. I am in control of when I let it out, rather than a dormant volcano waiting to explode at the people I love.
So I don’t think that book has it right. I haven’t read it, but I think that the title speaks from the privilege of not having anything real to be angry about, of never having had anger come to you even when you don’t want it, even when you want to cast it aside and be healed. It jumps from A to B without any consideration of how hard it is to get there.
Eventually I know and believe that I will get to the point where it doesn’t help me anymore, where it begins to dissipate, where I become that person in those poems about healing and forgiveness that I read. Right now I am between being angry and being healed and able to forgive, and that is okay. I will get there. And anger - the non-toxic, productive kind - is one of the things which drives me forwards.
Sometimes you cannot replace anger, or sadness, with happiness. Sometimes you cannot refocus your energy. Sometimes you need the bad feelings to help you heal, to help you to get to the good feelings. Being angry sometimes does not mean I am not a good person. Being angry sometimes does not mean that I am not capable of being happy. Being angry sometimes does not mean I am not healing.