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How to Bust a Bad Mood

Woke up on the wrong side of the bed? Psychologists suggest a simple fix.

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Sometimes it's just one of those days.

Your employee called in sick and you're swamped, your toddler threw a tantrum (and her yogurt on the ceiling), and even the drab weather is conspiring to depress you. Whatever the causes, your temper is short and your mood is black. Is there nothing you can do to turn around a day that's looking bleak?

Put down the brownie, the bottle of wine, or your AmEx card and forget the sort of indulgent fixes you're likely to regret later. Instead take the advice of psychologists. There's a simpler and healthier way to bust your bad mood, according to recent post on PsyBlog reporting on new research.

For the study scientists asked participants how they would like to order hypothetical good and bad events. For instance, if you had to lose a $250 gift certificate and have a good night out with friends, in which order would you like those events to occur and with how much time to elapse between them? They also measured participants' general levels of happiness.

What they found wasn't super shocking, but it does hold a simple but powerful truth for your next grumpy day. First and perhaps least surprising was the fact that most people opted to get bad events out of the way first--that's just eating the salad first and saving the cake for last (sorry salad, we love you, but you're no chocolate mousse).

More interesting and useful was the correlation the researchers found between folks who opted to experience a positive event immediately after a negative one and those who were generally happier. PsyBlog reports:

The researchers found that people who reported being happier showed a stronger tendency to use a positive social event, like meeting up with a close friend, right after losing some money. They seemed to have the potentially happy habit of using socializing more quickly after their loss to fix their bad moods.

Happier people also tended to use socializing as a buffer against negative events, no matter what they were. In contrast less happy people tended to use positive financial events as buffers against negative events, rather than social ones.

Those days when everything seems to be going wrong may be the ones where you have the least enthusiasm for planning a get together with friends. But the lesson of this research is that the way to bust your bad mood and improve your level of happiness generally is to power through that reluctance, pick up the phone and arrange to see a friend.

And don't expect money spent or cheesecake to turn around a terrible day. Research shows they simply don't work.

Looking for other tips to turn around a day that looks to be heading south? The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin offers 13 on her blog, including doing something nice for someone else, soothing yourself by organizing a mess and that old standby, exercise, which is a classic for a reason.

How do you turn around a terrible day? 

 

IMAGE: PHOTO 24/Getty
Last updated: Oct 23, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.
@EntryLevelRebel




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