Don't Be Afraid Of Your Dark Side
There can be serious perks to being in a bad mood. The black clouds hanging over our heads do actually have silver linings.
No-one said we always have to be perky.
While there are obvious benefits to releasing negative emotions, like having a good cry, there are also quite a few advantages of being in a stinking bad mood.
Here are just a few:
From Big Think:
"A study from the University of Waterloo published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences shows that being in a bad mood can actually be a good thing. Specifically, a bad mood can boost "executive function."
In other words, it means people in a bad mood "get things done".
The story continues:
"But why is this? Negative moods promote an analytical thinking style that's very well suited to problem-solving."
We don't faff around, in other words.
(N.B. The effect is more pronounced amongst people who are used to bad moods - i.e. it doesn't distract them when a black cloud hovers over them, unlike happy campers who are not as used to low spells and so are more likely to be derailed by them.
According to social psychologist, Joseph Forgas, bad moods make us likelier to stick at things.
From The Conversation:
"Other experiments found that when happy and sad participants were asked to perform a difficult mental task, those in a bad mood tried harder and persevered more. They spent more time on the task, attempted more questions and produced more correct answers."
As Forgas adds in the same article, we are also a lot better at remembering stuff:
"In one study, a bad mood (caused by bad weather) resulted in people better remembering the details of a shop they just left. Bad mood can also improve eyewitness memories by reducing the effects of various distractions, such as irrelevant, false or misleading information."
And we are also a lot less biased, Forgas says:
"We found that bad moods also reduced gullibility and increased scepticism when evaluating urban myths and rumours, and even improved people’s ability to detect deception more accurately. People in a mild bad mood are also less likely to rely on simplistic stereotypes."
5. Lie Detection
From The New York Times (referring to a study led by Forgas):
"A 2006 study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology tested subjects on their ability to detect a lie. Subjects who were put in a negative mood by watching a short film about dying of cancer were far more likely to detect lies than subjects who were put in a good mood by watching a clip from a comedy show."
And finally, in undoubtedly the most important finding of all, the act of embracing our bad moods (rather than pretending we don't have them), can literally save our lives.
From the BBC (referring to a 2010 study of patients with coronary artery disease, which looked at their relationship with expressing anger):
"Over the course of the study, 20% experienced a major cardiac event and 9% percent died. Initially it looked like both anger and suppressed anger increased the likelihood of having a heart attack. But after controlling for other factors, the researchers realised anger had no impact – while suppressing it increased the chances of having a heart attack by nearly three-fold."
The Life-Giving Properties Of Having A Purpose In Life
We can juice, we can jog, we can jettison all junk food but we might be missing a step if we can't justify our existence.
Having a sense of purpose in life does a lot more than give us a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, according to a few key research studies.
Aside from putting the brakes on late stage cognitive decline such as Dementia and Alzheimer's, feeling our lives have meaning and purpose has been found to act as a buffer against heart attacks and strokes.
We could literally be extending our lives by finding what really makes us tick.
From Science Daily, referring to a Mount Sinai study in the US:
Previous research has linked purpose to psychological health and well-being, but the new Mount Sinai analysis found that a high sense of purpose is associated with a 23 percent reduction in death from all causes and a 19 percent reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, or the need for coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG) or a cardiac stenting procedure.
"In a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers from the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago followed 951 older adults who were free of dementia. Over a period of seven years, about one in six ended up with dementia. But those who expressed the greatest happiness and sense of purpose in life at the beginning of the study were the least likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. They also had the lowest rates of mild cognitive impairment or other cognitive decline."
"Researchers analyzed data from nearly 7,000 American adults between the ages of 51 and 61 who filled out psychological questionnaires on the relationship between mortality and life purpose....
"People without a strong life purpose were more than twice as likely to die between the study years of 2006 and 2010, compared with those who had one."
Summing up the importance of having a life purpose is cardiologist Alan Rozanski, who was involved in the Mount Sinai study, quoted in the NPR story:
"The need for meaning and purpose is No. 1," Rozanski adds.
"It's the deepest driver of well-being there is."
That Nagging Voice Hasn't Always Lived In Your Head
Next time you feel beaten down, like you can't do anything right, listen to that berating voice inside your head - and ask yourself who it actually is.
No-one likes bullies. But the worst kind, the most insidious of them all, live inside our heads. And the reason they are so powerful is because we don't even realise they are there.
They are so deeply embedded in our thoughts, emotions, beliefs and knee-jerk reactions to situations, that we think they are us - and we think they're right.
These voices have lives of their own - and they began in the 'real world', before they leapt into our minds and started whispering in our ears.
The Critical Inner Voice
The Critical Inner Voice, as it is known, typically gets created as a defense mechanism to a painful situation.
It doesn't always require a direct criticism or scolding to develop (the growing pains of childhood inevitably spawn situations that leave us feeling inadequate) - but the negative feedback loop we get stuck in can inevitably be traced back to an individual or group of people whose words and/or actions impacted us deeply.
If we have ever been picked on, regularly criticized, felt the spotlight was on us for all the wrong reasons, the emotional charge of that event can get stuck.
And the way we were treated at the time, the kinds of judgments/expectations that were made of us and the lack of care that was given to us all get internalised.
We start talking to ourselves in the way we were spoken to that we hated so much.
And it becomes so natural to us, so automated, that we fail to realise we are even doing it.
And before long, we end up doing the original critics' jobs for them.
Recognising The Root
But breakthroughs can be as astoundingly simple as they are effective, as an interview Epiphany Channel did with architect, Greg Schriefer, shows.
Having been plagued by negative self-talk for years, what freed Schriefer was recognising where it actually came from.
When he realised that he was in fact repeating the exact words his father had said to him, he was immediately able to distance himself from the voice.
It no longer belonged to him, so he could begin a conversation with it, rather than just soak up whatever it was saying.
As Schriefer told Elise Ballard, who runs the Epiphany Channel:
"I had realized that I had been battling my father’s voice my entire life. It was him, not me, saying, “You are no good for nothing, and you’ll never amount to anything... My mind was just repeating it."
Once he realised where the voice came from, he was able to identify it every time it came up again after that - and stop it in its tracks.
When There Are Upsides To That Voice
Writer Isabel Allende outlined a similar experience she had in an interview with Global Leadership TV.
But in her case, she was also able to see how it actually benefited her.
The upside to being harsh on yourself is it can drive you to be better.
Allende was able to create a successful career for herself in a time where it was unusual for a woman to do so.
And it was the high expectations and intolerance of a grandfather cracking the whip (in real life and in her head) that she says she had to thank for it.
She told Global Leadership TV:
"It helped me for years and years to become someone freer, more successful and more independent than most women of my generation did in that place,"
Finding The Right Balance
The downside was, she could never switch off, feeling guilty if she ever stopped working.
Being able to give the voice - and herself - a break has been the key to achieving a bit more balance.
And now she uses this critical voice to her advantage as and when she needs it:
"Sometimes it's useful. Sometimes when I am in a situation of great stress or when I have to really perform, the voice comes and helps. But it doesn't tie me up, it doesn't imprison me like it did before."
The next time we get swept up by the voice inside our heads, the act of being able trace it back to its originator is well worth trying out.
Not only can it free us from the negative aspects of what it is saying - but it in some cases (depending on what it is saying) it might actually help us as well.