Your mood effects the way you react, of course it does. If you’re sad you’re generally less motivated, less interested, more introspective. If you’re happy you’re usually more extroverted, more inquisitive, less lethargic.
But what actually determines your mood?
Sometimes this is obvious. Your pet just died, you just won the lottery, your just got fired or you’ve been offered that great job. More often, it’s quite subtle. Maybe you’ve already forgotten that compliment, but it’s still affecting your mood. Or you’ve been day-dreaming about the good time you’ll have on holiday in a few weeks. Perhaps a con-man or stage psychic recently primed you with words associated with trust and giving.
But usually, our moods seem to slide to what you may call a ‘default’ state. A disposition. A base-level that’s different for everybody. Some folks are generally happy, and others generally more miserable. Some people are generally more introspective, some more extrovert.
So what determines this default state? It could be our genes of course. Perhaps some of us are just born happy. This even seems likely to be the case to some degree, but that original genetic effect is soon dwarfed by the feedback mechanisms, parenting style and other external influences in our environment.
If the human brain does something, practices any skill at all, it gets better and better at doing it again. The more you play the guitar, the better you’ll be at playing the guitar, the more you’ll enjoy it and the more you’ll be likely to do it again. This doesn’t apply jut to learning a music instrument. It applies to drawing, to cookery, to philosophy, to maths and carpentry and skating and sports and indeed to every possible human endeavour. It even applies to smiling.
If you know all that, you won’t be surprised to learn that it also applies to mood. The more you’re extroverted, the more likely you are to act that way. The more you’re miserable, the better practised you are at being miserable, the easier it’ll be. As you move through your life you wear a path in your brain just as you would if you walked the same path over a lawn each day. You’ll then find yourself walking that same path over and over again, wearing it deeper and deeper, just because it’s easier to do so than to walk less charted ground. If you’ve been happy a great deal of the time, you’ll automatically follow that happy-path, find yourself in a happy mood for no other reason than that’s the rut you’ve worn in your mind.
Rut is the right word too. You can become stuck in it. If you’ve been miserable for a great deal of your life, you’ve worn a path so deep it can start to become hard to get out of it. Depression results. If you’ve been overly introverted much of the time, shyness and embarrassment can become overwhelming.
But even those who aren’t depressed, shy, violently angry or annoyingly hyper can benefit from learning how to practice other moods. However happy you are, you can probably be happier if you’d spend more time practising doing so. You can learn to control your mood.
How do we practice such a thing? How do we learn to influence our own emotional state?
You have already, in the first few paragraphs of this article, been primed with a clue.
As we’ve mentioned in these articles many times before; your brain is an associative machine. If you want it to be happier, think of a time when you were happy. If you want it to be more outgoing and lively, think of a time when you showed those qualities. If you need to act more confident and self assured, spend time thinking of examples of yourself doing so.
The more you can concentrate on the images, sounds, memories and details of these things, the more they will affect your spirits. Con artists, psychology experimenters and stage hypnotists use subliminal cues to influence you, and even that works surprisingly well; but the more you can focus and direct your attention towards those particular things that make you feel a certain way, the more you’ll slip automatically into that pattern of thinking.
If you consciously and actively monitor your mood, deliberately take note when you feel a certain way, you’ll have more examples to call on when you want to recall that feeling.
We do not advise trying to turn yourself into a happy hug bunny who’s always laughing and full of joy and never angry or low. The whole range of human emotion is valuable at some time in your life. Being too overbearingly, relentlessly, hyperactively joyous all the time is just as dysfunctional as being a paranoid, gloomy, depressive grump. We think you should practice the whole gamut of emotion until you can switch mood at will. Learn to monitor and adjust your mind-set and emotional resonance as and when it’s useful to do so.That means being well practised at all of them so that when you find you need to angrily rip some idiot a new arsehole, you can get into that head-space easily. Or when it’s better to passively ignore and let wash over you yet another insult from a less transcended friend, that too is a simple matter.
Our latest guided meditation is based around this idea. It will help you to recall an emotional state, take note of it, and compare it to another emotional state. To understand the differences between then and associate each mode with simple keys to help you recall them later at will.
Before you start to listen to it you should have have in mind a mood that you’d like to practice, and two events. One when you experienced that mood intensely, and one when you experienced the opposite just as intensely. It will guide you through trying to focus on each event, the way they made you feel, and monitor the changes in your brain as it re-experiences it during the review. To really focus and learn quickly how you can direct your brain towards the experience, and of course to associate that mood with some trigger image or sound to aid you in slipping into that mood later.
Though it’s unlikely to actually be true, some people may believe that they have never experienced the state that they’re hoping to practice. A painfully shy person can probably not recall ever being the centre of attention as they regaled a room full of people with fascinating stories that kept them all enthralled. This is partly because we find it easier to recall a memory when we’re in the same emotional state as we were when the memory was first imprinted. Again, our brain is an association machine. It’s also partly because it will simply happened less of course. It may, possibly, have even genuinely never happened.
If this is the case, don’t worry. Sometimes just try to think of a time when you were closer to the desired mood than you usually are. If you’re trying to focus on being happy but you’re usually utterly miserable, think of an occasion when you were less miserable than usual. Other times, just make one up. Make it up before you listen to the mp3, know before you start what pretend-party you were at, what people were there. Your imagination will provide your brain with how it feels to be in that situation if you can imagine it in as much detail as possible.