Friday, May 14, 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday

We have a theme today.

7 Quick Ways to Kick a Bad Mood

We all have those days. It's part of the human experience. Mine usually begin when my 3 year old decides she does NOT want to wear leggings with her dress and we're out of clean tights. Nothing is quite like starting a day with a full-on tantrum and Mommy guilt ("If I'd only done laundry last night we wouldn't be in this situation!"), unless you throw a sleepless night, a cold, and a visit from a demanding family member into the mix. Not that I'm speaking from experience here, just hypothetically...

My life doesn't stop when I have a bad day. My kids still need their mom, grocery store clerks still deserve a friendly smile, the people in my life have to be treated with kindness and dignity. I can't walk around in a funk, taking out my mood on other people. Abigail had a nice post about this the other day, in which she quoted Thomas Aquinas:

"Affability is the duty of justice, it is a kind of debt of decency. Affability is the virtue of maturity and not of youth. It requires the discipline and strength of character to be even-keeled in one's demeanor, regardless of how one is feeling. It is that rare species of charity, the heroic strength that does not inflict one's fluctuating moods upon others."

This is particularly important for moms, as our mood affects the well-being of our families. And if it is our duty as Christian Mothers to be happy even when we feel sad, annoyed, put upon or disappointed, then we need to pursue happiness actively.* This is one of the key themes of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, which I read earlier this year and heartily recommend.

Easier said than done, though! Plus, much of the common advice for cheering yourself up revolves around purchasing or eating: buy a new outfit, bake cookies, hire a babysitter so you can have a few moments to yourself, go out for lunch with a friend, etc. Sometimes these ideas are really good; hanging out with a friend is an excellent mood lifter. But there are times when that's simply not possible. People on a budget, SAHMs with large families, and those with limited time need to get more creative. In addition, I find taking the poor with me through a bad mood also serves to renew my dedication to serving God through serving the poor.

My top 7 ways to lift a bad mood:

This is number one for a reason. There's really no other solution to petty annoyances than to give them to God and renew the consolation of His love in our hearts. I find Adoration the most effective way to pray, because it provides me with both silence and the physical presence of our Lord. But even a short prayer to the Holy Spirit can help, or a repeated, "Jesus, I give this over to you."

"Music has charms to soothe the savage breast
To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak." -- William Congreve
Whatever kind of music makes you feel like smiling, dancing, or singing is good. I have K-LOVE pre-programed in my car, and it always comforts and cheers me. If the song they're playing is too sad, I switch to classical or pop in a Rodrigo y Gabriella CD. Fun music is a great mood lifter!

It's a function of our comfortable lives that we tend to overblow little things that don't matter in the long run. Whenever petty annoyances threaten to engulf us, it can help to consider: Will I care about this two hours from now? Two days? Two years? Would I care about this if my daughter had leukemia? If my mother was dying? Would I care about this if we had no money left in our bank account? If my husband left me?

I often encounter images of suffering that stay with me. They flicker to my conscious mind sometimes, to remind me that I am blessed with an abundance of wonderful things. Because I have a special affinity for the poorest of the poor, I often call to mind the image of a woman in India I once saw on a poster at a Church during Lent. She was clearly starving, clearly made old before her time from the toil and agony of her life. I am blessed beyond her imagining, not only with material possessions, but with freedom, love, and, in the words of Charlotte Mason, "tales of the imagination." Though all of us as children of God are privileged to receive the consolation of Christ's mercy, some of us are asked to bear a heavier load than others. Sometimes, simply reflecting on this is enough to make me joyful again.

I am fortunate to have a relationship with two families living in subsidized housing. I see them once a week or so, and have been helping them with various things for the last two years. Without fail, I leave their homes energized and filled with the Holy Spirit. This is not because of anything particularly special about them, or from the usual satisfaction that comes from doing works of charity. In fact, most of what I do is of no practical use to them whatsoever. It certainly hasn't made any substantial change in their lives; they continue to struggle every day. But in our relationship, I find a sense of God's presence. I think this is because Christ is always particularly present with the poor and suffering. He has a special love for them, and to be near them is to be near Him.

Our bodies were made to move. We are dynamic, kinetic creations. Too often when we're in a bad mood, we do the exact opposite of what we ought to do: We slow down and get quiet and still. I belong to our local YMCA, which provides FREE CHILD CARE as long as I'm in the building, for up to two hours. If your local Y or rec center has a similar service, by all means take advantage of it! Moderate exercise releases endorphins, takes your mind off your problems, and strengthens your heart, muscles, bones, and immune system. Even something as simple as strapping the kids into the stroller and walking around the neighborhood can lift a bad mood (not only ours, but the kids' as well!)

Maybe this is just me, but my inertia is the biggest obstacle to my productivity. As a corollary, it's also my strongest asset. Once I get started on something, I find it difficult to stop. So if I sit down at the computer, I will sit there until something makes me move. If I get started on a book, I want to read it to the end. So I find it helpful to get started on something that really needs doing, like vacuuming. Even if it doesn't result in the entire house getting cleaned, at least I get the satisfaction of having accomplished something. Being able to point to a clean room and think: I did this! boosts both my mood and my self-esteem. Professionals might get the same satisfaction from cleaning a drawer, going through their email, mailing a document, or something along those lines. But simply getting something done is key to breaking the downward cycle of the doldrums.

For more Quick Takes visit Jen's blog!

* I'm referring here only to petty annoyances. There are many things in our lives which can cause deep unhappiness over which we have NO control at all, and I'm definitely not suggesting that it is our duty as Christian Mothers to smile while being abused or put a good face on misery. Your cat dies, and that's a real loss that will take time to heal. Your cat throws up on the carpet...well...that's something these tips might help us with. Also, depression is a real, physical problem for many people, and these suggestions are not going to touch that kind of despair. They're not meant to. Please seek professional help if you have feelings of hopelessness, profound despair or lethargy that negatively affect your ability to function and last two weeks or longer.


Allison said...

I am new to reading your blog and this is just fantastic. I think you are right - the secular media would have us buying things, or developing "independence" when sometimes it is not only not possible, but frankly, an immature response.

I love that you put prayer first on the list.
My husband has a dry sense of humor and has told me when I am in a difficult situation to imagine I am merely a writer for a sit-com. Remember the dialogue, setting etc. I tell you it puts a smile on my face.

Diane said...

These are all very very good! Thanks for this post, it's just what I needed.

Claire said...

#5. This is actually a very profound insight and one that I did not understand when "helping the poor" was still almost entirely an intellectual concept to me, and in which the emphasis was on my "help" TO or FOR them.