When You’re Having a Crappy Day

mood contagion, positive attitude,
Digging into the roots of bad moods. Image credit: EmiNguyen.

I’m having one of those days; a steaming pile of crap sort of day. You know how it is.

We all have them. A bad mood isn’t far behind when we wake to the same old challenging circumstances, especially when spilled coffee or an angry tailgater adds to our problems. Negativity has a ripple effect. We’re grumpy, so we complain to others. This tips conversational topics toward what annoys us. Worse, a negative outlook sets our personal radar to scan for more difficulty on the horizon. Such days rarely improve.

Sure, some of us hold out a little longer by emphasizing the positive. This is a useful tactic because moods are downright contagious. Studies show an individual’s emotions can influence entire groups (families, playgrounds, workplaces). Positive contagion leads to more cooperation and less conflict. Negative contagion—well, you know how fun that can be. Apparently, moods spread like that pink goo from The Cat in the Hat Comes Back.

No one is upbeat all the time. It’s inauthentic (and probably why chronically perky people inspire loathing). But we can choose  what attitude we bring to life’s ups and downs. It’s certainly easy to focus on five minutes of difficulty rather than overall smooth progress. We do it all the time. A child’s angry outburst overshadows hours of sunny cooperation. A colleague’s late return from lunch somehow reflects badly on a week’s worth of work. Or a whole slew of minor problems start to look like a steaming pile.

I discovered while reading Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom that we’re fighting a hardwired tendency. Our brains pay more attention to the negative than the positive. That was probably helpful when saber-toothed tigers threatened our early ancestors. It’s not so helpful these days.

Fortunately, I live on a small farm, where the cows produce loads of actual crap. So I know what to expect from it. Whether mixed into garden beds or left in a heap, eventually it fosters blooming new life.

The same potential lies dormant in our worst days. No matter what, we’re still in charge of our own attitudes. Because shit happens is only one way to look at it.

Compost happens  too.

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Compost happens. Image: Leanan87.

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Laura is the author of a poetry collection titled Tending and Free Range Learning, a handbook of natural learning. She lives on a small farm notable only for its lovestruck goose.