Bad moods might not be so bad after all

Do you remember mood rings? Back in the ’70s, everyone seemed to be sporting a mood ring, or a mood pendant, or mood earrings, bracelets or even mood lipstick! I’ll get the science out of the way quickly: The gadgets contained ‘thermotropic liquid crystals’ (make notes—there WILL be a test) that changed color, from dark blue to black, depending on the temperature of your skin. Passion, happiness, or any flushed state, would be revealed by a dark blue color. If you were unhappy, sour or clammy, the crystals would turn black.

How convenient! If you were not sure how you were feeling, you could always consult your ring finger—or your lips.

Thermotropic crystals notwithstanding, our moods are a big deal. They affect how we perceive the world, and how the world perceives us. So what happens if you’re in a bad mood? The obvious goal is to get rid of it, right? Well, not necessarily.

A good mood is not an objective, or an end, in itself. To eliminate any and all bad moods (even if we could) would actually be a terrible thing. For example, you might be in a bad mood about your finances. In such a situation, your mood is a motivator—calling attention to the fact that you need to take corrective action. Or, maybe you’re sour because someone treated you poorly. The mood is a message from your subconscious that perhaps you should do something about your relationship with that person. Unfortunately, your moods and emotions won’t tell you WHAT you need to do about your finances or your friend, but they do dramatize the point that something bears looking into.

That doesn’t mean that moods are to be blindly obeyed, without reason. But they are helpful cues for important action. Without bad moods, we might not know that something is starting to go wrong.

Our feelings and emotions tell us what’s important to us, and motivate us toward action. They are a normal part of life. Try to imagine a world without art—no movies, no novels, nothing striking or remarkable. How stale and boring that would be! The existence of these things points to our natural need to express our emotions in dramatic form.

Instead of fighting your moods, it’s best to simply acknowledge and recognize them. Being aware of your feelings, talking about them (with anyone willing to listen), or perhaps simply writing them down, can be remarkably effective ways of helping them pass. The worst thing you can do is say to yourself, ‘Cheer up!’ or ‘Feel better!’ Nobody honestly believes these techniques work, because feelings and moods don’t respond to commandments. Feelings and moods have to be faced, addressed, and perhaps resolved, rather than simply tucked away.

To that end, moods sometimes need more than just venting. They need correction, or challenge—using facts, reason and logic to confront them. Moods have a way of distorting reality. It’s not that they’re wrong; it’s simply that they tend to overstate or exaggerate things. For example, a typical expression of a negative mood might be: ‘Things are never going to get better!’ Notice the overgeneralization? To correct this, one might say: ‘Not so! Some things are going perfectly fine. Some things aren’t, but I can’t control those, and thinking about them won’t change them. But there are things I can do to make the situation better. I need to sit down and figure it out.’

Understanding and perspective are the keys to dealing with a mood. People with perspective get through it, while people who are not in the habit of exercising perspective get lost in the sea of emotions.

Often you’ll hear people say, ‘Oh, she’s so moody. She must have a chemical imbalance. Is she bipolar?’ I suggest exercising caution before leaping to conclusions such as this. Bipolar refers to a mood condition that isn’t nearly as common as people think. It is best diagnosed by a qualified medical or mental health professional. These comments also reflect the pervasive, yet mistaken idea that moodiness is, in itself, somehow wrong or bad. Of course, someone most of us would consider ‘moody’ might actually have a problem managing his or her emotions. But if the easy solutions fail, psychotherapy and, in extreme cases, medication, can always be given a try.

We have to get past the idea that unpleasant moods must somehow be eradicated or extinguished. It makes a lot more sense to accept them as a part of life and learn to interpret their message.

So, keep an eye on your mood ring. As it changes color, know that it’s all part of everyday life. Those little crystals might be sending you a mental note that it’s time to take control and face life head-on.

By the way, there really isn’t going to be test. See? You’re in a better mood already.