It’s a worthy aspiration, but many would say that it’s over-optimistic because our moods are determined by circumstances largely outside our control. There’s no doubt that it’s often difficult to be positive, especially if we’ve recently experienced a traumatic or sad event like the loss of a loved one or a business failure. Indeed, we should seek professional help, if circumstances induce serious depression. In most cases, however, a negative mood is more a nuisance than an illness. The cause is usually vague, yet the effect an unrelenting, rumbling sense of unease; unpleasant, like an upset stomach. Its demotivating effects alone make common problems seem daunting. It may not warrant medical intervention, but if we had some system for turning a negative mood positive, our lives would be transformed.
A good mood improves our professional and social lives, not just because we feel mentally and physically well, and have more energy, but because mood has an important side effect: it’s contagious. When our mood is positive, it lifts the mood of everyone we deal with – family, colleagues, customers and suppliers – which further boosts our own mood, improving every aspect of our life. When our mood is good, we’re better equipped to handle stressful situations, we enjoy our leisure time more fully, and our social relationships are more satisfying.
All this may be self-evident, yet it raises a question that has important implications: Without external intervention, can we control our mood? Unless we suffer from a serious medical condition, the answer is an unqualified “yes.” The biggest problem for many of us is that we don’t believe it, and so, don’t take even the first step towards gaining control. That’s a pity because it doesn’t require a great effort and the payoffs are enormous.
Controlling our mood begins with a daily routine – a habit (see my blog about the power of habits: “The Winning Habit”). Ideally, the routine should be done before we communicate with anyone else. That means immediately we get out of bed. I call this process “positive priming;” others may use different terms. Its purpose is to get into a positive frame of mind before facing the world. Priming is vital whether our contact is face-to-face, by phone or in writing because our mood is conveyed by how we look, how we speak and even how we write.
The specific priming method varies from person to person. Some people read inspiring, wise quotations (see my blog “Magic Words: How Slogans Transform Your Life”); some prefer poetry, others humor. Whatever the method, we should be fully relaxed before starting. Ironically, we’re not always fully relaxed when we get out of bed; jumbled thoughts of our persistent problems, plus remnants of our dreams are nearly always there, all vying for attention like a class of excited children. That’s why pre-priming relaxation techniques like meditation or listening to classical music are useful. They don’t eliminate noisy thoughts, but they push them to the back of our mind, where they no longer make such a din. That frees up a space at the front of our mind for more relaxing and pleasant thoughts, the kind induced by priming.
Regardless of how positive we become, however, it’s unlikely that everyone we encounter during the day feels the same. Rather than let another person’s bad mood contaminate ours, we should treat it as a double challenge. First, it tests our resolve – how deeply embedded our own good mood really is. Second, and more importantly, it gives us the opportunity to subtly shift their mood from negative to positive. We can do that in a number of ways, especially by not reacting to their negativity, even if they’re antagonistic, and by being overtly understanding and even complimentary. It’s amazing how a glum, even aggressive person responds to that approach. Initially, they’re somewhat thrown by our resolute good humor and the fact that we don’t “rise to their bait.” Then slowly, without realizing it, their mood softens.
The more we practice being positive, the more it becomes a habit, and the more people perceive us as “a sympathetic ear” and want to deal with us. That satisfying shift dramatically enriches our professional and social lives, not to mention theirs. The pioneering American psychologist and philosopher, William James (brother of novelist Henry James), famously said, “Our greatest discovery is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. As you think, so shall you be.”