Bad moods happen sometimes. Maybe we’re down because we had a conflict with a loved one, got sick, made a mistake, had to face disappointment, etc. Or maybe we just had a day full of little, less-than-ideal moments. When these moods happen, it is important to process them (see Be Happier By Accepting Sadness), but it is also important to figure out ways to pick ourselves up and feel happy again. One way to do this is to find an effective outlet that allows us to release the bad feelings and welcome in good ones.
Everyone is different, so the best outlets may vary from person to person. The trick is figuring out exactly what will be most effective for us as individuals. It is also useful to find more than one method that works, so we have an arsenal of happy-making activities. This may require a bit of trial-and-error, but considering some basic qualities of good outlets is a place to start.
Good outlets tend to be related to things we already like.
Some people love exercise, some love art, some love cooking, some love video games, and the list goes on. Engaging in an enjoyable activity can help remind us of the parts of life we enjoy, and the good feelings we get from having fun may be able to crowd out some of the bad ones. If we can identify some things that consistently put a smile on our face, we can turn to them when times get tough.
Good outlets allow us to release the bad stuff.
This could mean pounding on a punching bag, venting to a friend, writing a poem, or drawing pictures of our problems and setting them on fire. Sometimes finding a way to symbolically let go of negative experiences and feelings can help us feel better. And if that alone doesn’t cure the bad mood, it still makes us more prepared to feel happy when we engage in other fun activities.
Good outlets do not damage us.
Frustration, anger, and sadness can sometimes lead us to destructive behaviors masked as outlets. For example, we may turn to working out (not inherently a bad outlet), but push ourselves way too hard. Or we may find comfort in food (also not inherently a bad outlet), but overindulge to the point that we damage our health.
In order to determine whether we are partaking in an effective outlet or damaging ourselves, we need to consider our motivations and the results of our behavior. If we realize that we are motivated by a desire to punish ourselves or by an urge to give up (e.g. overeating because we have decided to give up on weight loss goals), it is likely that our actions will cause us harm. But even if we are motivated by a genuine desire to improve our mood, we should still monitor the effects of our actions to ensure we aren’t carrying a previously healthy outlet too far.
Good outlets do not damage others.
It really might improve our mood to chop off our little sister’s ponytail or knock all of someone else’s belongings off their shelves. But, ultimately these kinds of outlets are unethical and lead to greater sadness in the long term. Taking our bad moods out on other people can create a chain of bad moods if they start feeling unhappy, too. Not only that, it can damage relationships that might otherwise be a source of joy.
Identifying ways to improve a bad mood allows us to take our happiness into our own hands. While we will always have to face unhappiness from time to time, it is helpful to have some options for lessening our sadness and moving forward with life.