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How Do I Shake Off a Bad Mood?

Everybody has a bad day from time to time, feels a bit off, maybe ends up in an argument with another person as a result. Chances are, you’re reading this article because a bad mood is bothering you and a feeling of dissatisfaction has already started creeping into your daily life. You might also be asking yourself: What’s wrong with me? Because you seem to be suffering from a bad mood all the time lately – as if a dark grey cloud is constantly following you around. What can you do to shake it off and improve your mood?

Can you be in a bad mood for no reason?

Our mood really is like the weather: it’s constantly changing. As with the weather, there are certain reasons why clouds or fog appear, why it rains, and why the sun shines again. However, very few people fully understand these reasons and it is almost impossible to influence them.

When it comes to our mood, the situation is a little different:

From a psychological point of view, the causes of our moods, including bad moods, are often to be found in our thoughts.

Even if something upsetting happens to us, like losing our wallet, our mood is only soured if we have upsetting thoughts about this event.

The first piece of good news is that we have far more influence over how we deal with our thoughts than we do over the weather. And there’s a second piece of good news: the very fact that we can’t control our thoughts – and therefore our moods – holds a key to greater serenity.

Observe your thoughts, neutralise your mood

How can you tell if you’re in a good mood? Of course, you just feel it, maybe you’re more active, or having good laugh. However – and this is something we’re often not aware of – good moods are also accompanied by positive thoughts: “Ah, everything is working out great” or “I’m so happy about / looking forward to…”. To find your way out of a bad mood, it’s not a matter of forcing yourself to think such positive thoughts – that simply wouldn’t work, and might even lead you into the trap of toxic positivity.

Instead, when you’re in a bad mood, start by noticing the thoughts arising in your mind: “I’m having such a crappy day.” If you consciously register this thought, it might be joined by other negative thoughts. However, another voice often emerges to question these statements: “What’s so crappy about today anyway?”

You don’t have to follow your gloomy thoughts, or your own doubts about them, nor do you have to scramble to add a positive thought. Just observe the interplay of your various thoughts.

I’m in a bad mood for good reason

So if you are experiencing a bad mood for no reason, it’s probably because your thoughts are emerging unobserved and you are unintentionally dwelling on them. But what if there is a reason? For example, you’ve been in a bad mood ever since your favourite colleague quit or your partner took up a new hobby that demands a lot of their time? What if you experience some event that makes you feel disappointed, bitter, or overwhelmed? In this case, it’s usually difficult to disengage from certain unhelpful thoughts. Instead, perhaps the following story can help you shift your perspective on certain events or circumstances so that they are less likely to spoil your mood.


The old man and the horse

There was once a man who had a horse. One day his horse ran away. The people in the village came to him and said, “What bad luck you have!” The old man smiled and said, “We’ll see.”

After a week, his horse came back and brought three more wild horses with it, so suddenly the man had four horses. Now the people in the village said, “What good luck!” The old man’s son tried to tame one of the wild horses, but he fell from it and broke his leg. “What a misfortune!” the villagers gasped. The old man answered calmly, “We’ll see.”

A few days later, a group of soldiers came to the village and ordered all the young, healthy men to go to war. The old man’s son could not go because of his injury, so he remained with his father. “What luck!” exclaimed the people in the village.

Goodbye bad mood, hello serenity

Most of the time, there is nothing you can do to prevent events from happening, circumstances from changing, negative thoughts from arising, or your mood being better or worse. This is all part of being human.

However, it can be very helpful to keep a watchful eye on your thoughts so that you don’t continue to string them out unwittingly. Let your thoughts be there without agreeing with them or rejecting them, and give the dark cloud a chance to move on. As well as trying to take your thoughts less personally, you can adopt a similar mindset towards events and circumstances – like the old man in the parable. Maybe you’ve already had the experience of an apparent failure or misfortune leading to something positive in the long run. So the next time your head tells you, “That sucks,” you can remain serene and emotionally stable by smiling and taking the attitude of “who knows” or “let’s see”.

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Our articles are written by psychologists and reviewed by psychotherapists.