A few days ago, I was extremely upset. It’s too complicated to explain the whole situation, but an encounter left me feeling anxious, agitated, under attack, and sad. I did what I could to resolve the situation, but I still felt terrible.
When I have a day like this, I try to make it a Good Bad Day. I take the steps that tend to make me feel better or, if they don’t make me feel better, at least give me the kind of day on which I can look back with satisfaction.
To have a Good Bad Day, I make sure to:
1. Exercise. For me, exercise is a key element to managing my moods. It calms me and energizes me at the same time. Its rituals are comforting. It’s productive, but not intellectually or socially demanding. Also, exercise is so obviously a key to good health that if I manage to exercise, I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile in my day, no matter what else happens.
2. Do something nice for someone else. The first part of the Second Splendid Truth is “One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy” (also known as the “Do good, feel good” provision). I sent out some emails that I knew would be useful for other people. It doesn’t sound like much, but it took a lot out of me.
3. Stop ruminating. My inclination was to go over and over the details of the upsetting episode and to conduct imaginary arguments. Instead, I tried to keep my resolution to find an area of refuge. Studies show that dwelling on negative thoughts amplifies their power in your mind. In fact, some researchers suggest that the reason more women suffer depression than men is that women are more likely to “over think,” while men are better at distracting themselves from negative thoughts.
4. Connect with someone important to me. I called my sister.
5. Tackle a nagging task. Crossing things off a to-do list is energizing and cheering. I took the time to clear my desk—not just physically removing piles of papers, but also doing the tasks that the papers represented. Copying research notes from various sources, making a dentist’s appointment, and making progress on my blog redesign gave me a feeling of control and accomplishment.
6. Do something silly and lighthearted with my children. I videotaped my four-year-old as she danced and sang in her mermaid costume with her new mermaid doll, and we had a family bubble-blowing extravaganza. And throughout all these steps, I tried to …
7. Act the way I want to feel. Research shows that although we think that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act. I get worked up very easily, but I tried to act cheerful instead of allowing myself to get agitated, wring my hands, etc. My mother often reminds me, “Stay calm,” and I need that advice frequently.
8. Ask for help. I said to my husband, “I really need to talk to you. I’m really upset, I want to tell you what happened today and talk to you about it, okay?” Being a sympathetic listener isn’t my husband’s strongest point, and truth be told, he wasn’t very comforting, but I think that by explaining that I needed him to try to do his best to help, I did help him do the best he could.
But nothing really worked. I still felt lousy. So I made sure to …
9. Go to sleep early. It’s true, everything does look better in the morning. Also, the longer I work on my happiness project, the more importance I give to sleep. Getting enough sleep just makes a tremendous difference to happiness.
When I woke up the next morning, I felt better. The situation still upsets me, but not as much as it did. When I have a bad day, it helps to have a good bad day.
Originally published on The Happiness Project