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Want to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions? Get Angry!

Anger motivates us to want things more

And I bet, like most, you have tried practically every strategy for sticking with your resolutions and staying motivated through the year.

Yet, there is one successful strategy that you might not have tried — intentionally, that isand that's Anger.

A study out of Utrecht University of Netherlands, published in Psychological Science, describes how anger makes people actually want things more.

In this study, participants watched a computer screen that displayed common objects (pens, cups, etc.). However, unbeknownst to the participants, right before they would see an image of the object, a subliminal image of a face would flash rapidly on the screen. The images of the faces included a neutral face, an angry face, and a fearful face.

After seeing the set of images, in the first experiment, each participant was asked to report how much they wanted each object. In the second experiment, participants were told to squeeze a handgrip if they wanted the object and the harder they squeezed the more likely they were to win the object.

The objective of the experiment was to tie an emotion to an object. Researchers found that participants wanted the objects associated with angry faces over the objects associated with neutral or fearful faces. Additionally, individuals put more effort (squeezed the handgrip harder) to try to win the objects associated with angry faces.

What this means is that anger is a very powerful motivation.

What this means is that anger is a very powerful motivation.

The reason for the connection between anger and motivation probably has to do with evolution. Think about competing for a limited resource like food. "If the food does not make you angry or doesn't produce aggression in your system, you may starve and lose the battle," explains Henk Aarts, one of the authors of the study.

Yet, the study demonstrates that we have no idea that the reason for wanting an object can come from anger. "When you ask people why they work harder to get it, they say, ‘It's just because I like it,' " says Aarts.

Even though we might not recognize it, we are all familiar with the powerful motivation of anger. I like to call this the High School Reunion Phenomenon. We all have some desire to return to our High School Reunion either richer, slimmer, or curvier. And, a big factor behind wanting that is the anger that percolates when thinking about that bully or girl or guy that tormented you in high school.

Anger is a very interesting emotion, being both negative AND positive.

Anger is a very interesting emotion, being both negative AND positive.

Anger is generally categorized as a negative emotion, yet it has some characteristics of a positive emotion.

Anger actually activates the left side of the brain that is associated with many positive emotions. We are taught from a young age not to get angry. But anger, as we have learned, motivates people. "People are motivated to do something or obtain a certain object in the world because it's rewarding for them. Usually this means that the object is positive and makes you happy," explains Aarts.

So, To Recap:

  1. We seek objects that are positive and will make us happy.
  2. Anger makes us want those objects more.
  3. Thus, anger can make us happy :)

So this year while reading over your resolutions, remember: Think Angry Thoughts!

Wishing all my readers a Very Happy, Angry New Year!!!


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H. Aarts, K. I. Ruys, H. Veling, R. A. Renes, J. H. B. de Groot, A. M. van Nunen, S. Geertjes. The Art of Anger: Reward Context Turns Avoidance Responses to Anger-Related Objects Into Approach. Psychological Science, 2010; 21 (10): 1406 DOI: 10.1177/0956797610384152