It's hard to get the most out of your day when you spend the first few hours of it (or more) in a funk. Nobody wins--not you, not your spouse or kids, and not your co-workers (just to name a few victims). There are more triggers to bad moods than there are degrees of bad moods, but there is one thing all bad moods have in common.

They're something you choose to be in.

By no means am I telling you I'm exempt from them, but I can tell you a great hack I've developed and used successfully now for quite some time. It helps stop bad moods from ever showing up, which is the best solution, because once they get going, they can be hard to snap out of. 

This is an exercise you can do each morning. I started doing it while brewing my morning tea (which is one of the first things I do every day). In the quiet moment while waiting for the water to boil, I ask myself three consecutive questions (pausing between each to consider).

1. What am I thankful for today?

Yup--good ol' fashioned gratitude. Easy to overlook when you're feeling sour, but so incredibly important for casting your day in the best light possible. In fact, research published in January 2018 in the Journal of Positive Psychology directly links gratitude with hope and happiness, while classic research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology from gratitude expert Robert Emmons links gratitude directly with well-being.

Here's what happens when you stop to consider what you're thankful for that day: You'll find something, or maybe even many things. Bad moods are about what you don't have, what's going to happen to you, or what you don't like. Expressing gratitude forces you out of that mode. It starts a positive upward trajectory and can halt a negative downward spiral in its tracks. All it takes is identifying just one thing you're thankful for to get things going in the right direction.

Think I'm exaggerating? Try it--especially when you're right in the middle of feeling pissy.  

2. Who might I thank today?

Feeling gratitude puts you in a better mood. Expressing it takes your mood up still another notch. I dare you to try feeling bitter right after you've taken the time to thank someone for doing, saying, or being something. Pick something small or major to express gratitude to someone for. You'll find the act of doing so or even thinking about doing so lifts your spirits, because it's about lifting someone else's. Sometimes you have to jumpstart other people's engines to get your own going.

3. What one thing should I be thinking of today?

Bad moods often form and/or sustain themselves in the face of an unfocused, counter-productive start to the day. Clarity and focus require mental energy, which means it'll be energy not spent on feeling sour. When you ask yourself one thing you should be thinking of that day, it instantly reorients the way you could have muddled into your day.

My experience has been that even if that one thing you need to think of isn't a great thing, it provides focus and sets you into "getting on with it" mode rather than keeping you in "sulk" mode. And here's a bonus: After you decide what one thing you should be sure to attend to that day, quickly sketch out the few steps to take to get to it, or the few things to avoid to keep you from getting to it. You'll find that your brain has already been reset for the day and is more likely to carry on in planning and execution mode. Who has time for negative energy at that point?

Starting more days in good moods than in bad is something you can influence. Here's to hoping this hack will help.