The email’s subject line had the intended effect of causing my eyes to pause as they slid down the list of new messages in my inbox.
I could scarcely avoid the lure of this sentence: “Oregonians got angry 5 times each week in 2020, reveals survey.”
As an Oregonian who spent that entire year within the state’s borders, I had to find out more about a survey that wasn’t just flawed but was clearly the product of fantasy.
Angry five times each week?
I got mad five times in as many minutes during 2020.
And not just once.
Nor do I think my experience was unusual.
If 2020 had an official emotion, surely anger was it.
The email also mentions “fear, stress and frustration,” but those are merely the psychological blasting caps that can trigger a full-blown explosion of fury.
The message also states: “A slow WiFi connection, excess workload or any number of minor annoyances can set off your anger.”
This is not Freudian-level analysis.
But that sentence, however obvious its conclusion, also illustrates the absurdity of a survey that claims Oregonians were angry just five times per week last year, below the national average of six such weekly episodes.
(Among the other findings, Delaware was the “angriest” state, with residents getting mad 12 times a week, while Hawaiians were perturbed just twice a week. Hawaiians have a reputation for placidity, to be sure, what with the tranquil weather and the beaches and all. But the notion of Delaware being a seething stew of rage doesn’t make sense. If anything, the state’s residents ought to have been happier than usual, what with their local boy, Joe Biden, winning the presidency.)
Even setting aside WiFi and other computer problems — which of course you can’t set aside when your internet connection gets severed half an hour before a work deadline — the key phrase is “any number of minor annoyances.”
That number, of course, is much closer to infinity than to zero.
A single task as basic as emptying the dishwasher can raise my ire half a dozen times.
A fork’s tines get wedged into the silverware holder and when I yank it free I spill spoons all over the kitchen floor and then I whack my head on the open cupboard door when I stand up after retrieving the utensils and then I can’t get the bowls to nest neatly and there’s no room for more mugs and all of the sudden I feel a compulsion to start throwing dinner plates across the room like Frisbee discs.
And just like that I’ve plowed through my weekly allotment of five bouts of anger in a few minutes.
I wasn’t asked to participate in the survey conducted by Alcohol.org, which in December 2020 surveyed 3,003 Americans (a strangely precise figure, it seems to me), according to the email I received from Cherry Digital.
But had I been queried I would have at least tried to be accurate in estimating how frequently I had been angry during the year.
And I would have given a figure considerably higher than Oregon’s average of five, or the national six, or even incensed Delaware’s survey-topping dozen.
I suppose many people, even afforded the cloak of anonymity, are reluctant to admit just how often they get mad. Perhaps they’re ashamed, feeling that succumbing to anger is a sign of weakness.
It can be, of course, when a person doesn’t merely rage internally, but turns the emotion into unproductive action.
By tossing dinner plates, for instance.
But anger itself needn’t be destructive.
Chopping firewood, by contrast, would be a worthwhile outlet.
Alcohol.org admits as much in the email, conceding that anger “can be a healthy emotion.”
As you probably deduced, given the name of the organization that conducted the survey, respondents were asked about alcohol use as well as anger.
Specifically, the survey found that 68% of those who were angry due to the COVID-19 pandemic “have used alcohol as a coping mechanism.”
That seems low to me.
But it may be that people are no more eager to admit downing a couple of beers or martinis than they are to confess to getting ticked off frequently.
The survey wasn’t limited to questions about alcohol use.
About two of every three respondents who admitted drinking because they were mad said the alcohol “has the opposite effect and makes them angrier.”
I’m not convinced this is a completely fair description of why angry people imbibe.
For me, alcohol doesn’t transform my anger into tranquility so much as it makes the anger seem more reasonable. Beer is the liquid version of the friend who commiserates with you, who sympathizes when you explain why a single stuck fork got your blood boiling.
Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.