We all have days when nothing feels right. Anything and everything gets on our nerves, from our spouses reminding us to call the plumber to the cheerful greetings of our coworkers. We’re not interested in socializing, meeting our obligations, or just generally conducting ourselves as usual.
When you’re hit by a mood like this, it can be very difficult to shake it off.
Nevertheless, if your goal is to be a happy and fulfilled person, good mood is actually the first thing you need to master. Without it, you’ll have no ambition, no motivation, and no energy to deal with this thing called life!
This is an idea I talk about in depth in When Sane People Do Insane Things, as well as a major part of the ideology I pass on to my clients. Good mood is what we need in our common struggle to get somewhere. If you have aims you want to achieve, from the spiritual to the material, you need to be able to harness enthusiasm and keep it oxygenated even in the face of adversity. This is an essential skill whether you’re aiming for a huge transformation, like the residents at my rehab, or just trying to live better day to day.
Have you had a day like this?
Before we get into it, I want to be clear that when I refer to having a bad day, I’m not talking about someone who is grieving a serious loss. I’m not talking about someone who suffers from chronic depression of a psycho-physiological nature. I’m also not talking about people coping with impossible situations.
I’m talking about the average you and me having a down day. Sometimes, we don’t even know why we’re so crabby. Other times, our stars are not aligned and what can go wrong, does.
Imagine you miss your alarm and wake up late. Next thing you know, you’re on your way to work, and the car in front of you gets a flat tire. The boss has already warned you about your punctuality this week, so you know you’re in trouble. You feel helpless and stupid, and you just want to turn around and go back to bed, a luxury you cannot afford.
It’s all downhill from there. Your day received an early-morning death sentence, and you cling to it tenaciously, refusing to believe you can turn it around. When you get to work, you perceive everything that happens through this filter of negativity. It’s as if, since the day started out unsuccessfully, you’ve decided that you’re obligated to perpetuate the disappointment.
You seem to be trying to punish the day for failing you, refusing to give it the satisfaction of a smile.
In actuality, the only punishment that you mete out is towards yourself.
What not to do
It’s important to admit to yourself that when you’re in a bad mood, many of your instincts will not support or reflect your greater good.
- It might be hard to resist the urge to wallow. You may start going over the unfairness of the situation in your head or even writing it out in your journal. Let’s not pretend that this will help you get over your self-pity; all you’re going to do with this activity is reinforce it.
- Foul moods are usually accompanied by impatience. Your energy is fully taken up dealing with your emotions; you don’t have the wherewithal to deal with other people. You suddenly find everyone annoying or start bristling at the things they say, especially those with well-meaning advice about how you can get back on your feet. Naturally, when you find it difficult to be around others, you will want to isolate. I must warn you, however, that isolation can easily exacerbate the blues. Without anyone else around, you will be your own worst company.
- As I have mentioned before, I work with addicts. It is possible that the brain of an addict is highly sensitive, making it particularly hard to cope with the struggles they face. Many drug addicts, for example, find their own moods intolerable, so they seek to manage them with mood-altering substances. People who are down want to take something to bring themselves up; people who are a little too high-strung want to take something to calm down; people who are bored might go into the realm of hallucinogenics and the like. Now, you may wonder what this has to do with you. But the truth is, addiction isn’t the only bad choice for alleviating a bad mood – it’s just one of the most extreme. Perhaps you like to munch on cookies, play video games, or snap the bubble wrap that comes in your packages. These activities are not inherently problematic, but the question is whether you have them in hand—or whether they have you. In particular, any version of binging is ultimately going to make you feel worse rather than better. If you find yourself constantly buried in mindless distractions, take care. The object here should not be to simply kill time. Seeking refuge in endless diversions does not constitute successful coping.
What’s the alternative?
Let’s go back to that moment in the car when you realized you were going to be late. Right then, it felt like the universe had been out to get you since you first opened your eyes in the morning. How can you transform a bad situation so far out of your control? How can you redo such a hopeless design?
These thoughts may be the most relentless ones in your head. However, I am confident that underneath, there is a remnant that knows that you are not actually doomed for the day just because you had a bad morning. There is still good in the world; there is still delight. There are so many things to be happy about. You may yet experience some of them before bedtime.
You can’t allow yourself the dubious comfort of despair. You must remember countless smile-moments and let them exercise power over the darkness. It’s a simple trick.
Imagine that instead of sitting and stewing, you turned on the car radio. Out of the blue, you hear one of your favorite songs. What a coincidence.
It’s hard not to hum along just a little. Soon you find that you’re singing at full volume. You open the windows and tap out the rhythm on the steering wheel. You sing, I’m still standing.
Thank you, Elton John. Thank you, universe.
A song that always gets you singing is what I call good mood insurance. It’s a guaranteed pick-me-up that you can draw upon whenever you need it most. Building an arsenal of such things – and consciously choosing to use them – is the best way I know to keep your spirits reliably high.
Take yourself in hand
You don’t feel well? That’s okay. It happens sometimes. The challenge of an evolved, serious person is being willing to do something about it.
- Making yourself a cup of peppermint tea
- Taking five minutes to do some yoga stretches or mindful breathing (you can read more about these techniques in the “Real Recovery” chapter of When Sane People Do Insane Things)
- Getting out your colored pencils and drawing a little, even just in a coloring book
- Doing a crossword puzzle
- Dancing around to a good beat
- Watching your favorite episode of The Simpsons
- Playing a game of solitaire
It really comes down to your personal interests. You know what brings an irresistible smile to your face – so sit down, make a list, and get ready to pull it out whenever necessary.
Here are some qualities that you should look for in your good mood insurance activities:
- An element of creativity: You’d be surprised at how refreshing it is to do something mildly challenging that stimulates you and allows you to achieve a little success. I don’t mean something hugely impressive, but just something that stretches your capabilities a little and gets you motivated again. People tend to judge themselves harshly when they’re in an already-low mindset; cheer yourself on instead.
- Other people’s company: I firmly believe that it can be worthwhile to find someone to talk to. It may seem unappealing when you’re fighting the blues, but it’s actually a good idea to get out of your own headspace and make a little room for another piece of humanity. Who knows? It’s even possible that your friend is even more down than you are. Maybe you’ll be able to help each other out.
- A change of scene: Strap on a pair of sneakers and go breathe some new air; take in a different panorama; if you’re lucky enough to have a beach nearby, go enjoy the sea breeze, the sand in your toes, and the noise of the waves. I can’t understate the value of finding some way to leave the closed space you were in. When you’re feeling trapped, physically changing your geography can have a bigger impact than you realize.
Long story short
Bad days will inevitably come along. For that reason, you need to be prepared to monitor them, deal with them, and triumph over them. If you think about it, a bad day is actually a spiritual opportunity; it’s a rallying call to practice your tools and techniques for building up strength and resilience. Your successes will empower you and remind you: The quality of your life is more in your hands than you thought.