Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, MFT 43464

Erin Mokhtar, MFT

16 Years of Creative Solutions

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Are you happy?


Did you like Choose Your Own Adventure books growing up? I was always intrigued by them and would often go back through the pages making different choices to see how things could turn out differently.


We really are the protagonists in a 3-dimensional “Choose your own Adventure” series; making big choices like what education to pursue for what kind of line of work, who to partner with, whether to have kids or not, and small choices like whether to take a class or what to do on a Saturday. We make the best choices we can and then only down the line, once we’ve lived it out can we see what the choice led to. Just from the point of view of statistics, a certain number of those choices we made at the time will have unforeseen consequences and we’ll wind up having made a few “detours” along the way.


Problems are a part of life, but the human mind is always searching for that “problem-free” moment when things all align in our direction. Many people live their lives “waiting;” waiting until some situation or circumstance changes in order to be happy. But life always seems to bring a new situation or circumstance. You can think of it like the “bell curve” principle in mathematics; where over and over again a natural pattern tends to emerge in the shape of a bell. If you could imagine the bell curve related to life problems, you’d see at one extreme a time with relatively few problems, at the other end a time of very serious and painful problems, and the majority of the time with “issues,” “dilemmas” and “situations”.


Having problems doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you! Mathematically speaking, “situations” will rear their ugly heads, and for the most part, as soon as you solve one dilemma, another one will arise.


More and more, psychologists are devoting themselves to the study of what makes people happy and well-adjusted and not just studying PROBLEMS. We’ve all heard that “we’re as happy as we choose to be” or that our attitude plays a big part in how we evaluate things and how we feel. But somehow that seems to be incomplete. Can we truly feel pleasure out of a force of will? I doubt it.


But I think a more nuanced answer would be; that it is important how you feel, what kind of mood you are in. When you’re in a good mood, you do evaluate things better, you do feel more optimistic and enthusiastic, relationships are more fun, and ideas flow. When you’re in a bad mood, you tend to feel dissatisfied with the people around you, with your home, where you live, your job, and tasks that you have to do seem harder and more overwhelming.


So I think it is very important to practice “mood management”. If you’re aware that you’re tired, or sad, or anxious, or resentful, but plod through your tasks and day, you’re likely to be less productive and have a hard time completing things. But if you treat yourself as though your happiness and well-being were tantamount to your success, you would make some different “choices” along the way.


In a bad mood, turn it around if you can by doing something that brings you pleasure; a shower, a favorite song, a walk in a pretty place, making a gratitude list.


Don’t stew in it by obsessing about how to deal with your problems or calling a friend to gripe. While those things have their place too, they often don’t turn your mood around. Whatever you do, if you’re in a bad mood, don’t use that as a time to analyze your life. Your analysis will surely find lots of places where things fall short to feel even worse about.


There are times when no matter what you try, you can’t turn it around. I have found that to be the case with certain emotions that just stick with me despite my best efforts. So in that instance, always when you can’t change something or control something, be aware and mindful; be an observer of your own mind. If you can’t shake your anger or resentment or fear and anxiety, just watch it. Be highly aware of the thoughts and emotions and the state of your body. This allows a tiny separation between you and the mood. If you really learn the skill of awareness, the awareness itself will dissolve the mood.


Begin to cultivate an interest in your own good moods. Be curious. Even the most depressed people have moments of non-depression. But a bad mood will not recognize those moments, will quickly dismiss them. If you have a thought that some situation in your life removes any possibility of you doing things that make you happy, or feeling any joy in doing them, that thought will dominate your perceptions and the choices you make. But it is only a thought; it is an evaluation you are making. Some days are better spent at the beach, the park, the movies, or IKEA then at home immersed in your bad mood.


What gave you a boost today? What was the best part of your day? What did you enjoy? Start to make a list. See what you have discounted in your bad mood. Your happiness matters! Love animals? Maybe you could buy yourself an annual pass to the zoo. Have you ever enjoyed doing your makeup and nails? Perhaps that is a mood booster for you that you haven’t been making time for. Perhaps you would like reading magazines at the library or going for a bike ride. One idea is to have a happiness journal instead of a problem journal. Keep track of any whiff of positivity; your hopes and dreams, your desires, your urges and wishes, things that strike you as beautiful, fun, or amusing.  Even the little things that you accomplish each day can be celebrated.


If you practice mood management, and are able to turn your mood around even amidst all the real problems that you surely face, you will be better able to confront the problems that you do have. If you practice mindfulness in those times when you can’t turn your mood around, you will be better able to protect yourself and resist self-destructive or compulsive behavior.