Choose your mood using the science of happiness
“Never mind me, I’m in a bit of a mood.” Every now and then, those words slip out and with them, your sadness, anger or envy takes control of the moment. Yet according to the experts, you can consciously choose your mood, rather than let it choose you.
“You can go to the fridge and take out the chardonnay, have a piece of cake and watch Dirty Dancing to dampen down your feelings,” says Dr Nick Baylis, British author of the HotIronKnowHow.com ebooks and The Rough Guide to Happiness (Rough Guides/Penguin).
“Or you can turn it around into something positive. Anger, loneliness and misery are all useful if you channel them. We need our moods, they’re an energy and a very valuable one.”
In fact, he says any mood can be used for the pursuit of life happiness–the trick is to recast it into something we need. Here’s how.
Step One: Review your unconscious thoughts
Moment by moment, we move through life reacting to things around us—the weather, traffic, a nasty email—but we do so without really considering what we’re thinking. Most of the time, says California-based leadership coach Denise Green, our brains are gathering evidence for the story that shores up our negative self-talk, like ‘I’ve gained so much weight this year’ or ‘My boss dislikes me.’
“Beliefs happen because we’re not paying attention. You have to question your thoughts before you make it into a belief,” she says. What’s more, we willingly accept the worst thoughts about ourselves, often over a more positive reality.
“We’re wired to what neuroscience calls the negativity bias,” Green says. “If you heard a rustle in the bushes a million years ago, you’d assume it was something going to eat you. We expect the worst as a default setting.”
Once conceived, a negative thought physically takes 90 seconds to pass through the brain’s major structures, which triggers the stress hormone, cortisol, and the flight-or-flight hormone, adrenaline. Uninterrupted, the negative thought goes deeper and becomes part of your belief system.
Turning that around can be hard, says Kathie Donovan, Canadian author of Inspiration in Action: A Woman’s Guide to Happiness.
“We have between 35,000 and 95,000 thoughts a day and 80 per cent of them are negative. We let our thinking mind be our master and we allow that negativity to creep in. You may know in your heart you’re not a failure, for example, but it’s very hard to accept the ‘story’ that you’re not. There’s a way to snap out of it if you want to.”
Try this: Focus your breath on the area your mood is creating pain or tension, usually your heart, throat or stomach. Breathe in and generate a happy thought and keep returning to it. “We hardly ever take in the good, we rarely let our bodies feel a positive emotion,” Green says. “And they don’t loop as much. So take it in, feel it and let it become part of your belief system.”
And this: Trace the thought’s origins—“I’m sad because no one loves me”—and bring it to its natural conclusion, such as “I will always be alone.” Then ask yourself: Is that conclusion even realistic? Is it the outcome I want? From there, visualize an outcome you do want and why you can achieve it, rather than listing obstacles in your way.
Step two: Choose your mood
Envy, boredom, anger, sadness…whatever the mood, says Baylis, it carries its own energy that can be used positively.
“It’s not about finding a fix for a mood,” he says. “It’s about finding something worth using the emotion on. I’m always asking, what’s the antidote activity for your frustration? It’s a ‘skills not pills’ approach.”
Anger: “Boredom is waiting to engage with life, but anger is you’ve engaged so much, it’s bloody hurting you,” says Baylis. Yet, it is one of the most useful emotions, because it can be a powerful catalyst for change.
“Anger should be used to do something energetic, like going for a lunch time jog or writing a job application. It physically makes us sick if we hold it in. People talk themselves out of it and it causes upset and frustration. Frustration is anger when it’s got nowhere to go,” he says.
Try this: “Instead of focusing inwardly, brainstorm about where you ultimately see yourself. If you don’t have enough money, what can you do to earn it? Start where you want to be and work your way back. Don’t dampen down the emotion, even if it’s painful. Use the energy for action, instead.”
And this: Is someone pushing your buttons and deepening your foul mood? “Remind yourself that what’s happening is about the other person and not about you,” urges Donovan. “Find something to love about them. You have to decide, ‘will I engage or elevate them?’ Give something back that is positive and it will disperse whatever is coming at you.”
Envy: Like romantic jealousy, envy is a charged emotion because it speaks to what we don’t have and feel we should. “Honesty is the crux. Admit to yourself, ‘I am jealous because I haven’t got that opportunity, those friends, that skill or whatever,’” says Baylis. Because it’s such a galvanizing emotion, envy captured into action can create positive change, once you choose what your outcome will be.
Try this: Create a vision board. Find images, words or representations of where you want to be and what you want to do. Put it somewhere you’ll see it everyday, like over your computer or in the kitchen. It will help you visualize–not just mull over–the positive possibilities ahead of you, made for you, by you.
And this: When envy about someone else’s achievements starts swirling around in your head, stop it in it tracks with two other thoughts: “I have no idea of how hard they’ve had to work to achieve their success,” and “I am inspired by others’ positive achievements.”
Sadness: Whether it is precipitated by a lack of sleep, unfulfilling work or feeling your life is not what you dreamed it could be, temporary sadness (as opposed to serious depression) can be overcome.
Try this: Every day, keep a gratitude diary that focuses on the bounty in your life, whether it comes from good friends, your health, a loving partner or even the antics of a pet. “By listing those things that give us joy, gratitude helps us take charge of our running negative inner dialogue,” says Donovan.
And this: Have a special ‘positive mood’ playlist loaded on your device, says Green. “Put on some fast, peppy music. The effect is not going to last the whole day, but to have 45 minutes without a negative thought is pretty damn powerful.”