For most of us, life is a series of ebbing and flowing moods. We’re in a good mood then something happens that puts us in a bad mood or vice-versa.
The point of this piece is to get people to take a fresh look at those cycles and then work on minimizing the bad moods. First, let’s take a look at what causes our bad moods.
Obviously, thousands of factors could come into play. Many are dictated by the lives we lead. A single mom with three kids in diapers will have different mood shapers than an unemployed, twenty-something college grad living rent-free in his parents’ basement.
An Instagram-induced funk
The babysitter calling in sick five minutes before mom is supposed to leave for work throws her day into the toilet pretty quick. For the twenty-something guy it could be seeing an Instagram post of a college buddy of his out celebrating the cool new job he just got…as he sits on the couch bobbing his eyes between Instagram and the World Series of Poker on ESPN.
Second would be moods determined by our general makeup. Some people come out of the womb with a relatively sunny disposition, others…not so much, with everybody else somewhere in between. So a flat tire might ruin an entire day for somebody while the sunny type will roll with it like water off a duck’s back.
The random bad mood
Finally, some mornings we roll out of bed and feel great, or lousy, for seemingly no reason at all. It’s random. This is in keeping with the mood cycling dynamic that seems to be part of most people’s lives. We go up…and down…and all around.
Which frustrates a lot of people, myself included. We do well for a day or two then hit a bad mood patch. Why can’t we just stay in that good mood mode?
Buddhism and impermanence
The Buddhists are all over this one with their concept of impermanence. All that means is that life is constantly changing. Things never stay exactly the same from even one moment to the next. Sometimes that constant change puts us in a good mood while other times it puts us in a bad mood.
Fine, so we all constantly experience ups and downs, for many different reasons. I’m going to focus on how we can shorten, or even stave off, the down moods. I’ll use an example from my life to illustrate.
Gerken family morning mayhem
Mornings at my home are typically chaotic as my wife and I navigate getting our 13, 11 and 5 year old kids out the door to school. Lunches need to be made, breakfasts served, clothes put on, teeth brushed, etc. Sometimes, in the midst of this mayhem, major meltdowns occur.
Like when my daughter has something in mind she wants to wear but can’t find it. As takeoff time inches closer my wife slowly but surely loses it. “Let’s go! It’s 8:25. We have to leave!” “But I can’t find my sweater!” “I don’t care! Wear another sweater!” “No!” “We have to go! It’s not fair to make your sister late.”
Then comes the inevitable barging into my office — “You have to take her. I can’t wait,” followed by the also inevitable SLAMMED door. I then burst out of my office, track down my wayward daughter and get her butt moving. This often ends with my wife and me yelling at each other. Fiasco completed.
What we do AFTER the explosion is what matters
The point of all this is about what happens AFTER the explosion. With frayed nerves and a pounding heart the tendency is to go into shutdown mode. This is where we throw in the towel and essentially say to ourselves, “Screw it. Screw the world. Screw everybody. I’m going to be in a bad mood now…” In other words, some triggering event leads us to throw in the towel and board the plane to Bad Mood Island.
The central problem is that giving up like this often results in our bad mood infecting the rest of the day. It’s not a conscious decision where we actually say to ourselves, “Okay, I’m going to be in a bad mood for the rest of the day.” But that’s the effect. This has happened to me far too many times.
So what’s the mindful way of tackling these bad mood situations? In the example with my daughter where the whole household has erupted and I’m finally back in my office trying to get to work, what do I do?
The mindful solution
The answer, as it is with all things mindfulness related, is simple. I stop. Close my eyes. Take at least five deep breaths and get centered. I relax as best I can. Then I lean away and observe what I’m feeling, from a place of nonjudgment. In this example, I’d say to myself:
“I just got all bent out of shape because daughter went nuts over missing sweater, then wife screamed at me because she was stressed about getting out the door. Okay, so that’s what is. Life goes on.”
The key is how we end this inner monologue. We say,
“I am not going to let this ruin my mood. I’m going to let it go and move on with my day.”
Don’t expect that this inner pep talk is going to make you feel okay right afterward. That’s not the objective. The objective is to nip a bad mood in the bud. It is to NOT allow yourself to go down the rabbit hole of stewing about what just happened, which only serves to feed that bad mood the egoic poison it so craves.
If you’re in a bad mood for no identifiable reason, we do the same thing. You may have just woken up and you feel off. So you take some breaths, lean away and observe how you feel. We don’t complain about it or judge it in any way. We simply observe it. Then we say:
“I feel kind of lousy. Not sure why. But that’s what is. Let’s see how things go.”
What we don’t do is wake up, feel lousy, and say:
“I’m in a lousy mood and feel like crap. Boy this day is gonna suck.”
By the way, I’m not saying we shouldn’t do the myriad things we can do to get ourselves out of a bad mood. We can get some exercise, call a friend and a million other things.
The key is NOT punting on your day
The key to this whole idea is that it seems so many of us get in a bad mood, caused by any number of factors, and then we just punt. We throw in the towel and capitulate to a long bout of bad mood-dom. And it doesn’t have to be that way.
The truth is we have a choice. We can choose to punt our day away or we can exert a modicum of mindfulness into the situation to nip the bad mood in the bud.
The best cost-benefit deal of all time
The cost of doing this is minuscule. It’s maybe a minute of calming down, getting centered, letting go and then moving on with your day. The benefit is that you don’t allow the rest of your day to go down the tubes. And that’s just for the one-time example.
Think of how much it would help our lives to practice this on a regular basis. Let’s say you saved yourself from being in a bad mood three times in a week. That’s 150 bad moods per year you’re averting. For five years. Ten years. Thirty years. That’s a ton of bad vibes not being released into the world.
All for the price of breathing, relaxing and then sticking up for your well-being by refusing to let your mood go south because of whatever just happened. That’s a great deal for each of us. And an even better deal for the world.