It’s a bit contradictory but in the holiday season at the same time that people get into great moods being around friends and family, sometimes people also get into bad moods. And it might have to do with the more somber winter weather. It might have to do with exercising less and eating more. Or it might have nothing to do with anything, and might just be a temporary, brief bad mood – which could happen to any person in any season for any reason.

What do you do? The first question is, should you try to get out of your bad mood, or should you stay in it, and sulk in it, and breathe it in, and bathe in it?

It depends whether the bad mood is from a temporary occurrence or from something significant. If somebody died, or a person breaks up with a girlfriend or boyfriend, or if a close friend moves far away, or if a work project goes terribly, awfully wrong, then that is likely much more than just a bad mood. That is the significant end of something. You may need to be alone. You may need to grieve. Grieving is extremely important in order to go “through” an experience as opposed to denying that something exists. As a wise friend of mine says,

Remember to feel what you feel.

Feelings are there to be felt. Especially in times of grief. A science-expert friend of mine told me that she heard that it is clinically considered that the average period of grief for a person’s death is two months, and that after two months, grief is considered psychiatrically abnormal, and psychiatrists often start to prescribe medications. I think that is absolute baloney. Grief takes as long as it takes. And it takes a different length of time for different people and for different situations.

On the other hand, if the bad mood comes because one person said something mean to you or because of no reason at all, then that may very well be a bad mood you want to ditch. If it’s temporary, if it’s a bad mood for a small reason, then there’s no reason to dwell on it. In the long run, just about everything seems small, so if it’s a small thing, then why not drop it? Why not live forward?

And if the bad mood is for no reason at all? A gardener friend of mine used to say,

Sometimes sadness is just the last drop that overflows the barrel.

And to me that was always very visual because I could see the barrel below the front porch, and I could imagine a light rain overflowing it slowly. Sometimes a bad mood comes on just like that.

This is primarily the case I want to talk about – the bad mood for no reason. Yes, a person could stay in that mood for a long, long time. A person could decide not to go anywhere, do anything, no exercise, no going out to see friends, and just dwell and sulk in the bad mood.

But that bad mood would stay. That’s the problem. If you do nothing to get rid of it, it is very easy for a bad mood to stay around. Why do bad moods , if not countered, stick around?

  • Because people are inertia-prone. People prefer not to change things. So many products offer money-back guarantees… because people don’t return things once they receive them.
  • Because the more, the more. The more you go out and enjoy life and, for example, go bowling with other people, the more you’ll enjoy it and want to do this more. And the more you stay in bed and don’t do anything, the more you’ll want to do this.
  • Because something needs to occupy your mind space, and only actively driving out the bad mood can make it leave your mind space. Unless you push bad moods out of the way, bad moods do not leave on their own. A reason to go away does not “just appear”. One of two things has to happen: you find something that occupies your time more than the bad mood or the bad mood has to be so bad that you start to rebel against it (the bad mood may have influenced you to act in ways that do worse things to yourself). In both cases, you need to actively drop the bad mood (by focusing on something else or by rebelling against the bad mood) in order to move on.

So given that bad moods need to be actively shaken off, how generally do you do it?

A friend of mine is a doctor, and when she was first in medical school, she decided that she’d do an experiment on herself. One week, she got terribly sick with a flu-like cold, and all the symptoms of headache, runny everything, no voice, drowsy… and her roommate got sick the same way. So they decided to see who would get better faster – one person was the control who would do nothing – just stay sick, sulk in it, stay in bed, grumble. And one person would take hot showers three times a day to clear up the breathing, wash off the old sickness, would put on clean clothes, clean sheets. Who do you think got better first? Voila, unsurprisingly, the girl who kept removing signs of the sickness.

So one answer is to know that you will need to take some action to shake the bad mood off (the metaphorical equivalent of lots of hot showers and change of clothings). If you’re trying to get out of your bad mood, what specifically should you do? To be addressed in detail tomorrow.


  1. Dave
    Posted Tuesday November 28, 2006 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting! I’ve been having some bad moods recently, and was attributing it to a negative drain, some state that I didn’t want to exist, but nevertheless did exist. The more of those that pile up, the more of a drain, and the less energy you have to be bouncy and in a good mood. It’s hard to be in a good mood when you don’t have any energy! At least, I think that’s the case. Although, maybe sleepy contentment is a counterexample. Hm.

    I’ve thought of energy balance for me as having a positive energy coming in from other people, and then positive energy going out. Negative energy should ideally go through me and not even be felt, but sometimes that does get processed into more bad vibes. It’s like that warm fuzzy story you posted a while ago.

  2. Posted Wednesday November 29, 2006 at 3:54 am | Permalink

    Hi Dave,
    I think that’s totally true – that good moods often go hand in hand with good energy. That’s why, in psychologists’ lists of the best 10 things you can do immediately to improve your happiness, EXERCISE is infallibly the #1 thing on the lists. (See here and here for example about the super-importance of exercise to mood).

    Energy. Adrenaline. Excitement. Adventure. Movement. Circulation. Goodbye bad mood. :) You’re absolutely right.

    (And here’s the story of the Warm Fuzzies – it is like that – it’s choosing to go for the good! The good-for-you, the good-mood, the just-plain good.)

    Thanks for the interesting comment!

  3. aunt diane
    Posted Monday May 11, 2009 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    good to read your blog. I agree about getting out of a bad mood.

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