Your Mood: The Key to How You Really Are in the World
To be sure, we are always in a mood. In fact, you cannot be alive and not be in a mood of some kind. Where do “moods” come from and what are they? Do we pick and choose our moods? Can we force our mood to change? How does mood shape how a person moves through the world?
Mood Before Thought
You could say that I, as a Life Moods Coach, have a bias toward seeing mood as a dominant factor in how individuals behave and make decisions.
This bias is not widely shared around the world, but there are researchers who have spent some time exploring the concept of mood as a central controlling factor in life – music to my ears! In fact, they see mood like the tuning of a string instrument, such as a guitar or cello.
In this metaphor, a child is like a guitar with many strings and multiple sound combinations. The tuning of the instrument is how the child tunes into the world. The child is a constantly vibrating, living organism, so a mood is always present, and since each individual has many strings, many moods can emerge.
People often say that their kids were “born” happy, or fussy, or fearful. That’s not exactly scientific proof, but rather an observation that finds legitimacy in the research that suggests mood is present from the beginning, well before speech and language even develop.
Your Caregiver’s Mood
As newborns and infants don’t have language skills, it is admittedly hard to study their moods. However, researchers discovered that infants’ moods are generated from their biorhythms and are especially influenced by interactions with the moods of their key caregivers: “Moods are co-created as a part of a process of shared meaning with other people.”
This was not a surprise to a friend of mine. She said that her mother was depressed at the time of her birth, and that her mother’s depression must have rubbed off on her, setting a precedent for how my friend connects to the world.
In addition to the environmental, there are genetic influences that help form the circuits that coordinate our moods and emotions.
Those circuits are like your guitar strings. They tune you to the world.
Your “tuning” is your mood, your existential feeling. Your mood makes certain things matter more than others. It gives life meaning, color, and melody.
Personal Connections and Moods
We are tuned into the world just as much as we are tuned by it. Since no one lives in the vacuum, we pick up the “tuning” of our particular era, culture, and society. We are parts of a whole and connect to the world by our participation in multitudes of situations and events throughout our lives.
Our mood affects how we view each of those events. For example, the sights and sounds on your walk along the same park will be different depending on your mood. Like this walk, the event itself may have no unique significance, but what counts is the relationship between you and the situation.
I mentioned earlier in this post how newborns and infants are influenced by their caregivers’ moods. Similarly, as we grow up we are constantly affected by other people’s moods. This is an evolutionary construct that drives our reliance on the connection with other people to determine our moods.
We are all quite familiar with “catching” somebody else’s mood either at home or in the office. People in groups or meetings often end up sharing a certain mood, which has a profound effect on their decisions and subsequent actions.
Mood – The Basis of Choice
So, mood is a very powerful and pervasive emotion that colors our perception of the world. It tends to monopolize the whole person for an extended period of time. A mood is already there by the time we become fully conscious of any mood change.
It is not easy, but not impossible, to change or replace a mood. If it were, we would not be constantly chasing after lists of the “10 best mood beaters”, or “7 solid strategies to lift your mood”, etc.
I love a good tip on how to lift my mood as much as the next person, but I am more excited to work with the concept of mood as our “tuning” and how it is the basis of choice. Mood or tuning decides how we operate in the world.
Mood and Stress
The central role of mood in things that count in the world can be seen in relation to a stressful situation.
Stress can be brought on by either positive or negative event or situation. We are under stress if we feel that our well being is challenged. When we first detect real or potential threats, we immediately assess danger by comparing the present situation to past situations and decide what we should do about it. We rely on our memory, judgment, as well as our specific tuning. Our default mood tells us how the situation looks like to us. For example, if our baseline mood is fearful, we will generate fear as the primary emotion and will make our decision based on fear.
If our unique tuning tends toward irritability or sadness, we are likely to view our stressor through the prism of such vulnerability, which will result in a less favorable stress response and poorer outcome.
Anxiety as Mood
A great example of how a person’s characteristic mood shapes how she moves through the world involves anxiety that is so very common in our times.
Anxiety as mood affects almost 30 percent of people at some points in their lives. When we experience an unclear and nebulous feeling of fearfulness or unease, we talk about worried and fearful mood. Such tuning often renders the individual to be hyper vigilant and consumed by pervasive thinking about negative and hostile things that could, but are unlikely, to happen in the future.
People in worried or fearful moods tend to avoid the unfamiliar and new situations or persons. They have behavioral hang-ups that effectively limit their options in personal and professional life.
The link between mood and what counts to us is the way to a better understanding of how we have arrived to where we currently are, and also what could happen in the future.
Focusing on moods as tuning opens the door to developing a better understanding of ourselves and others, as well as tailoring or adapting our self-development efforts towards a greater well being. The well being involves self-mastery, finding life purpose and meaning, as well as our relationships with other people (shared meaning).
Moods play a huge role in the process of creating meaning in life and connection to the world. Changing mood or re-tuning requires something fundamentally different than implementing any number of “best mood beaters”. It requires a lot of self-reflection and dedicated action in order to create a world of possibilities even in the midst of difficult or excruciating circumstances.
What are your thoughts?
Photography by MISTER ADAM