Bad mood? Not so bad

Readers ‘of a certain age’ will certainly remember mood rings. Back in the ’70s everyone seemed to be sporting a ring, a pendant, earrings, bracelets or even lipstick containing thermotropic liquid crystals. Depending on the temperature of your skin, the chemical would change color from dark blue to black. (Pay attention now; there’s going to be a test.) 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! Not sure how you’re feeling? 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, if a bad mood strikes, the obvious goal is to get rid of it, right? Well, not necessarily.

Even if we could, eliminating all bad moods would be a terrible thing. For example, you might be in a bad mood about your finances. 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 signal from your subconscious that perhaps you should do something about your relationship. Unfortunately, moods and emotions won’t tell you WHAT you need to do about your finances or your friend, but they will tell you that something bears looking into. So, even though moods are helpful cues, they shouldn’t be blindly obeyed.

Without bad moods, we might not know that something is starting to go wrong. Our feelings and emotions tell us what’s important and motivate us toward action. Try to imagine a world without art — no movies, no novels, nothing striking or remarkable. How stale that would be! The existence of these things points to our natural need to express our emotions in dramatic form. (And some moods can be pretty dramatic.)

Instead of fighting your feelings, acknowledge and recognize them. Talk about them or perhaps even write them down. This can be a remarkably effective way to help them pass. The worst thing you can say to yourself is, ‘Cheer up!’ or ‘Feel better!’ Feelings and moods don’t respond to commandments. They have to be faced, addressed, and perhaps resolved. They cannot be tucked away — at least not for very long.

More than just venting, moods need challenge and correction using facts, reason and logic. Why? Because moods have a way of distorting reality by overstating or exaggerating things. For example, a typical expression of a negative mood might be, ‘Things are never going to get better!’ To correct this overgeneralization, one might say, ‘Not so. Some things are perfectly fine. Some things aren’t, but I can’t control those. I just need to figure out how to make the situation better.’

Perspective is the key. People without perspective can get lost in a sea of emotions. We often hear, ‘Oh, she’s so moody. Is she bipolar?’ Exercise caution before leaping to conclusions. Bipolar refers to a mood condition that isn’t nearly as common as people think, and is best diagnosed by a qualified mental health professional. These statements also suggest the 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. It makes a lot more sense to accept them as a part of life, and learn to interpret their messages. 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 memo 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.