Yesterday, I was feeling sad and anxious. I did the usual things to try to boost my mood: I went to the gym; I got a decent amount of work done; I made sure not to let myself get too hungry, and I ate healthy food; I crossed a nagging task off my to-do list; I cleaned off my desk; I met someone for lunch; I put two people who had a common interest in touch with each other; I spent some good time with my husband and my two children.
But nothing really worked. I felt sad and anxious for a reason, and that reason didn’t go away.
At the end of the day, I climbed in bed at 9:30 p.m. (if all else fails, I go to sleep as soon as I’m sleepy, because everything does look brighter in the morning, on a good night’s sleep). As I lay in bed, it occurred to me, “Well, I did have a sad, anxious day. But I also had a good day.”
The First Splendid Truth holds that to think about my happiness, I should think about feeling good, feeling bad, feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.
Some people assume that feeling good and feeling bad operate in a kind of see-saw balance, as opposites along a single continuum. In fact, research has shown that positive affect and negative affect (fancy words for feeling good and feeling bad) operate independently of each other. It’s possible to feel very good and very bad.
That’s the kind of day I had.
The nice thing about trying to ameliorate a bad mood by taking constructive steps like spending time with friends and family, tackling a nagging task, exercising, and all the rest is that even if a day is bad, it has bright spots, and I can look back on it with satisfaction.
Other ways of trying to boost a bad mood, tempting as they are, don’t work very well. Splurging on “treats,” like shopping, drinking, or ice cream, can cheer you up for a minute, but then make you feel worse when regret and guilt set in. Indulging in a bad mood by yelling or sulking deepens bad feelings, because, as research shows, you tend to feel the way you act – so acting in an unhappy or angry way strengthens those emotions. Withdrawing from the world, though tempting, can make you feel worse. People – even introverts – are cheered by contact with other people, so isolating yourself intensifies the blues.
When I woke up this morning, I felt better. The reason for my sadness still existed, but it didn’t upset me as much. And yesterday wasn’t too bad. I had a bad day, but it was a good bad day.
Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.