How to transform anger into joy

Anger affects not only the object of the anger, but the person who holds the anger. And we do ‘hold’ on to it. So, how do we transform anger into an emotion like love or joy?

  1. Let go of the negative emotion. Just as we hold anger, we can let it go. This can be prompted by simply feeling the emotion being let go.
  2. Re-contextualize. Often, especially with more powerful emotions, it is difficult to simply let go of the emotion. So, it is useful to also re-contextualize the situation. The archetype for this is Jesus’ words as he was being crucified – an extremely dramatic way for him to make clear the point and importance of forgiving. “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” Here, Jesus re-contextualizes what is happening – it is a product of the people who are crucifying him not having spiritual truth.
  3. See harmony, joy, love, and so on, instead, in relation to the situation. Again, Jesus gives the keys here. “Bless those who persecute you.” So, see good things for the situation, and in particular, send love towards the person who is the object of your previous negative emotions.

Repeat these, switching from one to the other until the felt intensity of the negative emotion is gone, and there is a felt intensity of the positive emotion.

It might require a large number of repetition before the negative emotion is gone (“How many times should I forgive, 7 times?” “7 and 70 times.”)

It is very difficult for a negative emotion, such as anger, to exist simultaneously with a positive emotion, such as love. This process will typically benefit not just the object of the negative emotions (for example, you will be better able to respond to their behaviour, think clearly about the situation, take steps towards a better relationship where appropriate, and so on), but (often more importantly) it will benefit yourself, because you will no longer have the direct impact of those negative emotions on your physiology and the effect of them on how you interact with other people who may not have any involvement in the situation.

Doing this when you have quiet time and the ability to focus on and connect with God will help with appropriately responding to the emotions when they come up in the moment.

Repeatedly freeing yourself from the bondage of negative emotions leads to a kind of emotional freedom, and often this is characterized by a quiet joy in your day-to-day life. You are no longer controlled by these negative emotions (as much), and can choose a better way to respond and better things to focus on.

Fear not

Jesus repeatedly warns against fear (including worry). Why?

Part of this comes from the first commandment of the Old Testament. ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ When someone fears something, it is easy for them to put that thing ahead of God. So, instead of doing what God leads us to do, we do what our fear leads us to do.

There are some cases where fear is warranted and useful. In these cases, it is a call for action – there is some action we should take (a plan to make, something to practice, and so on), and so the appropriate response it to take the action and then let go of the fear. Usually, however, it isn’t warranted and limits what we can do.

This is why trust is integral to Christian practice. If you don’t trust God, but instead fear every little thing when it comes to your vocation or what God is telling you to do, you’re not going to get very far. Trust is the antidote of fear.

We say that ‘fear has a hold on one’, but the truth is more the reverse – we hold onto emotions of fear. The way to let go of fear in many cases is to literally feel oneself letting go of the emotion.

  1. Quiet your mind and reach out to God.
  2. Think of the fear. Now feel yourself letting go of the emotion of fear. Repeat this until there is no more fear present.
  3. Now, replace that with a feeling of goodness, harmony, love, success, and so on (whatever is relevant), for the situation.

This is a simple pattern one can repeat whenever one senses a fear that doesn’t have a legitimate basis (again, where it does, take the relevant action and then let go of the fear). We are holding onto it, and in the process making an idol of what it refers to. By letting go of the fear, we can more easily put God back into first place.