A bad mood is when your feelings get stuck in a terrible place and you can’t change them, no matter what. You’ve been in the doldrums for weeks, sad and depressed, even though you have nothing to be sad and depressed about, except for being sad and depressed. How do you shake that feeling and experience the joy you have every right to claim?
Imagine a radio dial with many frequencies along a continuous range. When you tune into one station, you get one genre of music, Country-Western, say. When you tune into another, you get a different kind, the Classical station where they play Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.
Your moods are like that. When you’re depressed, you’re thinking depressing thoughts, talking about depressing things, watching depressing movies, and counting your losses. The food you eat is plain and filling. The curtains are drawn. You stay in bed and never do anything. You are tuning in to a particular feeling, so that’s all you feel. No wonder you’re depressed. If you weren’t depressed already, everything you’re tuning into would make you depressed.
It looks like it would be easy to change your mood. People tell you to stop thinking depressing thoughts, talking about depressing things, watching depressing movies, and counting your losses. Eat food with flavor, they say. Pull open the drapes. Get out and take a walk. Doing those things is almost impossible because you’re depressed. If you try doing them, or someone makes you do them, it feels forced or you feel nothing at all. Even joy is jarring and uncomfortable. How can you ever get out of this pit?
Let’s return to my analogy of the radio dial with the stations playing all different kinds of music. You have probably found that you’re not apt to like any new kind of music. It was like that for me. Growing up in the ‘60s, I listening to Folk, Rock and Roll, and Classical. When Hip-Hop first came along, I hated it; I found it tedious, strident, and bombastic. The words came too fast to make them out. It wasn’t until I listened to more of it that I began to enjoy it; but it’s still not my favorite kind of music.
However, I liked the Blues immediately when I was first exposed to it. The Blues is different from Rock and Roll, but not so very different. My ear, trained to Rock, was attracted to the Blues for its novelty, but it wasn’t so strange that I was repelled. Once I began to appreciate the Blues, loving early Jazz was within reach. Then, loving early Jazz, I could understand Swing and Bebop. Free Jazz is still too far out there, along with Hip-Hop; but if I listened to them more, I might learn to love them.
The point is, just as some musical genres are related to others and prepare you to enjoy them, some feelings are related to other feelings and prepare you to feel them. Just as Steven Foster does not prepare you to enjoy Ice-T, depression is worlds away from joy. Nevertheless, it is possible to get from despair to joy step-by-step in the same way you can groove with Cop Killer after growing up on Swanee River, going by way of Ragtime, Funk, Disco, and Electronic.
I grouped a number of feelings into genres and then arranged the genres into steps. You can go incrementally from despair to joy. Here are the genres and the steps:
- Fear, Grief, Despair, Powerless, Insecure, Guilty, Unworthy
- Envy, Hatred, Enraged, Vengeful, Anger, Blaming
- Frustrated, Discouraged, Worried, Doubting
- Tired, Bored, Overwhelmed, Sick
- Joyful, Appreciative, Empowered, In Love
- Eager, Passionate, Enthusiastic, Spirited
- Hopeful, Buoyant, Curious, Interested
After working with many people and their moods, the arranging of feelings into genres and the ordering of these steps makes sense to me, but you’ll have to see for yourself. When you’re in despair (#1), rage, anger, and vengeful (#2) are just a short step away. From there, you can easily get to frustration and discouragement (#3). None of these feelings are desirable, but they do represent progress. Don’t stay stuck there, but use these feelings to move on to the more positive moods. The scale works in the other direction, too. Boredom (#4) easily becomes disappointment (#3), and then blaming (#2), and fear (#1).
So, the next time you’re depressed (#1), allow yourself to get angry (#2) by thinking angry thoughts, saying angry things, watching angry movies, and remembering the transgressions of others. Eat angry food, which would be spicy food, I guess; and tear down those curtains and rip them up. Anger will get your blood stirring.
From anger (#2), frustration (#3) is a short step away because anger and frustration solve nothing. Then you’ll be sick (#4) of it all: your depression (#1), the anger (#2), and the discouragement (#3). You’ll then be ready to make a change.
The hinge point in this process is going from tired, bored, overwhelmed, and sick (#3) to hopeful (#4). That’s when the series of negative feelings turn positive. I believe boredom prepares you for hope if it makes you look for new opportunities. Of course, boredom also prepares you for frustration because these things go both ways. Whichever direction you point yourself is the direction you’re going to go.
Of course, for any of this to work, you can’t act on the negative feelings. Acting on despair (#1) is suicide, acting on anger (#2) is violence, acting on disappointment (#3) is giving up, and acting on boredom (#4) is whining. So, don’t put any of these into action; just tune in and move on. Once you get to feeling hopeful (#5), you can start to act. Test these hopes (#5), show your excitement (#6), and express your joy (#7). Now you know how. Now it is real.