You can’t order up a good mood just because it’s Christmas
Although moods are not completely in our control, there are ways to stave off negative thoughts
'When you notice that painful mood arriving, remember the most important thing: break the thread of rumination.'
This is the time of year when culture and commerce unite, with fake cheerfulness, in their insistence that we must be in a joyful mood. Here’s the problem with that: our moods are not completely within our own control.
Instead, moods generally feel like they have come to us of their own accord – you can’t order up a good mood for seven o’clock this evening, for instance.
And some of those moods are going to be bad moods no matter that time of year it is. Helping ourselves to leave a bad mood behind isn’t an exact science given that moods are outside our direct control. It’s a bit like edging an awkward customer towards the door in the hope that they will soon leave of their own accord.
When a low mood arrives it’s all too easy to make it worse. You have only to ruminate – go over and over negative thoughts – on whatever aspect of your life the mood fits. For instance I can quite easily re-run old mental soundtracks about achieving nothing, about my various careers having been a failure, about being totally broke this time next year or in six months or a month’s time and so on and on.
That there’s no logic to this doesn’t really matter. Moods don’t operate on logic although they like to pretend they’re logical – “When you were at school, you wanted to be a Great Irish Writer. All you ever get to write are emails. Therefore your whole life is a failure. Boo Hoo.”
Breaking that chain of rumination is really important if you want a low mood to move along and leave you alone. If I notice such a mood arriving, I say to myself “Get up. Stay up.” Then I get on with whatever I’m doing. The whole purpose is to break the chain of rumination before the mood moves in with me.
I also try to remember that moods, like everything else, are impermanent. They come and they go. As an old Buddhist saying has it, “All things arise and all things pass away.”
You can be in a low mood right now but quite cheerful 10 minutes later because something cheering has caught your attention. Or you can be in fine fettle and able to take on the world this morning but be in full retreat from the world after lunch, seeing any activity as the equivalent of climbing a mountain.
All those jolly ads can give you the impression that everybody else is happy and full of cheer
So I find it helpful to remind myself that my moods are impermanent. So are my worries – and worrying can contribute to moods. Who knows what I was worrying about this day last year? I certainly don’t know, even though I might guess it had something to do with not having bought Christmas presents yet. What was I worrying about on, say, May, 17th, 2007? Who knows? Yet it probably seemed terribly important at the time.
It’s the same with moods. What was my mood at this time last week, when I was writing my previous column? I don’t know. It’s gone.
Maybe I had an unsatisfactory lunch and it triggered a low mood. See how silly the origin of moods can be?
As I said earlier, this is a moody time of year. We have losses to mourn, of people, of ambition not achieved, a job, a house to name a few. And because all those jolly ads can give you the impression that everybody else is happy and full of cheer while you, alone in the universe, are not, it’s easier than usual to slip into a painful mood.
When you notice that painful mood arriving, remember the most important thing: break the thread of rumination. Remind yourself to “get up and stay up”. Do things, even things that have nothing to do with the mood (a walk, tidying the room, playing a favourite game, for instance) while you wait for the mood to move on.
And you can do all that, regardless of whether or not you’re having a happy Christmas.
Padraig O’Morain is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is ‘Mindfulness for Worriers’. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email.