You’re having a bad day. It started with a late start in the morning, then you had numerous issues arise at work, dinner didn’t turn out well and now your kids are refusing to do their homework even though you’ve asked, begged, bargained and yelled. Bedtime can’t come fast enough. Sound familiar?
I can honestly say that I’ve had my fair share of these days. In one shape or another, we all have had these days. And yet, while these days seem insurmountable at the time, we often look back on them with a bit of humor.
I recall a family story about my grandmother who in the 1950s had one of these days. She had four young children at home and a husband who probably didn’t help much with the caretaking or housework. One particularly challenging day, she packed her suitcase and told the family she was leaving and wasn’t coming back until they shaped up – and she did. Unfortunately, she didn’t really have anywhere to go, nor did she drive, so she just walked around their small town dressed up in her nice clothes and carrying her suitcase as if she actually were going somewhere. Eventually, of course, she came back home, but the threat wasn’t lost and, at least for the rest of the evening, the children were better behaved for fear of driving away their poor mother again. The situation seems funny as we look back on it, but probably wasn’t so funny for her at the time.
The question I ponder at times is whether these situations are self-created. By that I mean, did we actually bring on the lousy mood that we end up with as a result of negative experiences, or did the negative experiences bring on that lousy mood?
The truth of the matter is that when you examine any day, there are bound to be numerous occasions of failure or frustration and likewise, probably numerous occasions to celebrate. So why is it that on some days, we tend to focus more on the negative than on the positive – or vice versa? Is it our attitude? Our predisposition? Or, is it that certain events are simply more influential than others on our mood? Likely all of the above, but I tend to believe that our attitude is a significant weather vane for our mood and likewise, to our resilience. And, the science of positive psychology seems to back me up on this. In fact, there is a process – a formula if you will – that shows the impact of self-thinking on behavior. It goes like this:
- Event: An event occurs; however, it is “value neutral” until we apply meaning or value to it.
- Thinking: We assign meaning or value to the event by how we talk to ourselves or think about it.
- Emotion: If we think negatively about an event, that creates a negative emotional state (anger, sadness, etc.). If we think optimistically about the event, that creates a positive emotional state (resolve, humor, etc.).
- Behavior: In turn, how we think and feel about the event drives how we behave in response to the event.
So, as you can see, our internal thought processes have a lot to do with our mood development and our responses to events. Some research in cognitive behavioral therapy actually shows that by altering our thinking about events, we can alter how we feel and thus, our behavior.
For me, I’m thankful that I tend to be a glass half-full kind of person and more often than not can see the positive even in downright miserable situations. I often attribute this attitude to my mother, who constantly required me to “put myself in another person’s shoes” – which was inevitably someone far less fortunate than myself – whenever any teachable situation arose. I think it is a good lesson to live by and I often imbibe the same teachings upon my younger children. It’s hard to see the negative in a situation when you are focused on finding that silver-lining in your gray cloud. But then again, it could just be that I’m wired to be a positive thinker. Nature vs. nurture – I wonder to what degree they affect our attitude? Well, that will have to be a story for another day…