By Jim Selman | Bio

Perhaps the most pervasive and omnipresent aspect of being alive is our moods. We are always in one mood or another. Moods are either positive or negative and they ‘color’ our experience of living, affect how we relate to others and our circumstances, and have extraordinary power to open or close possibilities. If we examine this phenomenon, we can see that our moods are portable—we take them with us wherever we go. I can be angry at home and find that mood affecting me at work or even on the golf course.

Moods are also contagious. Have you ever been in a meeting where everyone is in a good mood and then the boss or someone enters the room in a different, perhaps negative, mood and it isn’t long before everyone has ‘caught’ the new mood?

Moods constitute the contexts in which we normally live and experience our lives. But most importantly, they are almost always involuntary—they happen to us. We rarely choose what mood we will be in, especially when we get our ‘buttons pushed’ or are ‘hooked’ by some surprising event or breakdown.

While we mostly think about our moods in psychological terms of attitude, feelings and so forth, they are actually biological in nature. They can be altered though diet, exercise, drugs and, sometimes, by simply changing what we say. They can also be observed as being created by conversations that live ‘in the background’—mostly our stories about the future and how it connects to our past. I think of moods like the soundtrack in the movie of life. There is what is happening and then there is how we relate to what’s happening (our moods playing in the background).

One of life’s lessons is that we always get more of what we resist. This is particularly true when it comes to moods. Have you ever ‘tried’ to not be embarrassed or change a negative attitude even when you know you should? Did your mother ever tell you not to worry? Does it help to know that when you are worried?  

Check your own experience: don’t moods usually come and go? When we just accept them as a mood and don’t try to fix or change them (or hold on to them if it is a good mood), then generally they don’t dominate our experience. When we try to control our moods, they very quickly move to the foreground and totally take over our experience.

What is most useful about moods is that they can show us how we are relating to the future and help us to be more rigorous in making assessments and decisions. When the future appears open and filled with possibilities, we are generally in a positive mood. When we view the future as narrow or become resigned, then we generally have a negative mood.

For many, age is a like a ‘bell curve’: we reach a ‘peak’ and then decline. When viewed this way, we become increasingly vulnerable to negative moods (loneliness, resignation, boredom, isolation, loss and even despair) as we grow older. When combined with the physiological changes of age, this can trap us in a story reinforced by the culture that we must spend our later years ‘staying busy’ or drifting in one way or another. We can become blinded to possibilities for participation, contribution, meaningful work and pleasure. At some moment, our moods become self-fulfilling and life becomes more a function of our expectations about being older than an expression of our commitment and the possibility that life can be.

The key to mastering moods is to go into action. When we are in action, we are in the present. Our moods either dissipate or shift based on our commitments and the possibilities we take on.

We may not be able to control our moods, but we always have a choice about how we relate to them. We are daily given opportunities to recognize our moods for what they are and not be seduced into believing they are accurate reflections of our circumstances. A negative mood may grab us, but we can ‘let it be’. We can move forward in our commitments and actions and continue to be the author of our own play.

I spent most of yesterday in a ‘bad mood’. It is now time to stop indulging this mood and get to work.

I feel better already.

© 2009 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.