I get pissed off when people gawk at me when I’m having a bad day.
“You are always happy! Where is your smile?”
I’ve politely tried to say on many occasions that I’m “just like them”, but then I get hit with this response: “No you aren’t. You’re super human.”
I realize that it takes a special brand of imagination and playfulness to believe that “other people” experience the same core emotions, let downs and joys as you. Through mindfulness and meditation, I have been able to “download” this philosophy and because of it, my jealousy and envy of others has dramatically decreased. I’ve come to know personally that every human experiences the same emotional experiences, regardless of how “high” or “low” they are on the social-economic ladder.
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Everyone has days when they glimmer with positivity and radiate with joy and possibility. Dually, everyone experiences the soul-crushing emotional darkness of a bad day. And you know what? Until recently, I didn’t know that bad days were inevitable. Better yet, that they are uncontrollable. Bad days will forever be popping up uninvited on your calendar because they are a chemical phenomena.
In the heat and humidity of this past Baltimore summer, I read You Can Be Happy No Matter What: Five Principles For Keeping Life In Perspective by Richard Carlson, PH.D. Mr. Carlson talks about “the five principles your therapist never told you” namely:
- The Principle of Thought
- The Principle of Moods
- The Principle of Separate Realities
- The Principle of Feelings
- The Principle of the Present Moment
Each one of these principles blew my perspective wide open concerning so many aspects of everyday life. I liked this book so much that this is part one of a series.
Let’s get back to moods. Mr. Carlson says, “Moods are a human condition. You can’t avoid them. You will always see life and the events in it differently, in different moods. When you are in a low mood, learn to pass it off as simply that: an unavoidable human condition that will pass with time.”
Learning that there is nothing “wrong with me” when I’m in a “low mood” (I like how it isn’t called a “bad mood”) and that it will pass with time has been an incredible game changer!
For instance, last week I was in a low mood at my full-time job as a Pre-Kindergarten teacher. I was grumpy. I was throwing a luxurious pity-party. I felt like I was the world’s most under-appreciated “slave-teacher” in the world. I knew I was in a bad mood, for the children’s lack of “please and thank you’s” were cutting me deep emotionally. These ungrateful selfish kids don’t care about me. I’m just a servant to them. My salary is the only barrier that keeps me from being a slave. Yes, I can get dark when I’m upset and a bit over-dramatic.
Then in a catch of self-awareness due to my long-time mindfulness practice. I was able to notice that I was believing the thoughts I was thinking and that I was stewing and stewing and allowing the words to penetrate my deepest sense of self. And I laughed, because thoughts are the most ephemeral illogical thing to pay attention to! They bubble up from nowhere without context or invitation. Often they are completely delusional! To believe in ones thoughts without awareness is in many ways madness. (Honestly, most psychological disorders are people doing just that: Taking their thoughts too seriously as though the thoughts are divine that must be acted on.)
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Once I noticed I was feeding into the chemical draught of “good feeling”, I challenged myself to change my perspective. So I decided to name all of the things I was grateful for. At first I scoffed at the idea of making a gratitude list, then realized there was nothing more I could do to combat my negative thoughts and seek to persist through my low mood.
I’m thankful that it is a beautiful day outside and there are windows on 2-sides of this room. I’m grateful that my most obnoxious kids are faithful nappers. I’m grateful that I can sit in this chair listening to classical music as they nap. I’m grateful that I can eat the left-overs of the hot lunch too. I’m grateful…I’m grateful…I’m grateful.
Then suddenly, I was sitting in a body that felt emotionally neutral and buoyed by the positive things I noticed in my immediate surroundings. I was able to settle into my body and just rest and notice. The more I challenged myself to notice the little things I was grateful for, the more my low mood seemed to recede. I was bursting into a cloud of brightness and levity.
Now, when I’m in low moods I am more careful and gentle with myself. I ignore thoughts that my “job sucks” or that the “kids don’t care about me” or that “I’m not making progress on my life coaching business”. I realize in low moods that there is a temporary dark cloud obstructing the light and if I wait just a little bit, that that pesky cloud will drift away and I can see clearly again.
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How do you handle your low moods? Do you agree with Mr. Carlson that “low moods” are inevitable?