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Mood Attribution


(I first wrote this on January 23, 2003)

Scanning other people's LiveJournal entries is so very instructive! A psychologist's wet dream! I love it!

I've learned to handle my empathic reactions a bit better than I used to. Witnessing somebody else feeling sad and depressed can be difficult. Empathy creates those same feelings inside of me, and then I wish I could help them, but ... reading a stranger's LiveJournal is not the same thing as being a friendly face knocking on his door with pizza, beer, and South Park DVDs ;-)

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Basically, reading other people's LiveJournals confirms my theory that most human beings feel the full range of emotions on a regular basis. Happy, Sad, Angry, Pleased, Depressed, Ecstatic, etc. Now, some people appear clinically depressed nearly all the time, and others appear weirdly happy no matter what ... but those are statistical outliers, the endpoints of the normal curve of mood distribution. Plus, those people may well be censoring their journals, only writing about the crappy or only writing about the grand.

LiveJournalers are not a random sample, so ... maybe I shouldn't assume they represent humanity ... but I'll make do with the observations I can make ;-)

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People use their journals to express their moods, and then they usually go one or two steps further by attributing their moods to something in their environment, or perhaps to something lacking in their environment, or perhaps to personality traits outside of their control. Only rarely do people realize that whatever mood they are feeling, it is temporary, and it will fade regardless of their external environment. Or ... if their mood is totally plugged into their external environment, well, guess what, their external environment will bring totally different joys and woes tomorrow ;-)

Moods change, and they also recur. The unwanted moods -- whatever they are -- recur. Many people try to figure out what causes these recurring unwanted moods, and how to avoid them. As if that were truly possible. As if that were truly helpful.

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I find it is very common on LiveJorunal to attribute our mood swings to the presence or absence of a boyfriend, or to the actions of current or former boyfriends. If we are feeling lonely, and have no boyfriend, then we think we are feeling lonely because we have no boyfriend. If we are feeling lonely, and we have a boyfriend, we think we are feeling lonely because we miss our boyfriend.

If we are feeling sad, and we have no boyfriend, we think we are feeling sad because we have no boyfriend. If we are feeling sad, and we have a boyfriend, we think we are feeling sad because there is something missing in our relationship with our boyfriend.

People think that their primary relationship should be making them happy ... and if they aren't happy, then something is wrong in the primary relationship department (either not having one, or having an imperfect one).

There is the occasional writer who claims to be perfectly happy with his boyfriend, or perfectly happy single ... but these statements have the force of faith behind them, they sound more like propaganda than truth ... claims of perfect happiness are structures of denial.

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One discovery we can make via breathing meditation is that we don't need external stimuli to experience the entire range of emotions. They happen anyway! If nothing is going on right in front of us, our busy brains think about the past, or fantasize about the future, and we experience moods. Amazing! Purely imaginary moods! I mean, they feel real, they are moods, but they are based completely upon our internal, unstimulated thoughts.

Then, as we return to the world of external events, our busy brains think about what is happening around us, and we experience moods. These moods aren't imaginary, or so we think, because they are based on what is happening around us. Look -- this awful thing just happened, right now, don't we feel awful about it! Look -- this wonderful thing just happened, right now, don't we feel grand?

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However, these moods result from the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we create to explain our present, past, and possible futures. Almost any set of facts can be viewed positively, negatively, or dispassionately, depending upon our beliefs & attitudes (our standards of judgment).

Change the stories we tell ourselves, change the beliefs & attitudes we bring to the situation, and ... completely different moods can result.

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Some moods seem to have a physiological basis. Various body-pain-discomfort-addiction issues can lead to bad moods ... but how much of these bad moods are the result of the discomfort, and how much of these bad moods are the result of negative attitudes about experiencing discomfort? That's what Buddhists often refer to as the difference between pain and suffering. We all feel pain from time to time ... but perhaps some of the time we can change our attitudes about pain. It is even possible to welcome pain ...

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So much of the suffering I see via LiveJournal is the result of wanting a different life, different circumstances, more of this and less of that, a boyfriend, a better boyfriend, a boyfriend who isn't traveling, a boyfriend who wants the same things we do ... a job, a better job, a job "with a future" ... or, for the politically astute, a better President, better laws, better enforcement of laws ...

Imagining a better life, and disliking the current life. We all do that. But we also have a choice -- we have the freedom to accept and enjoy our current lives no matter the circumstances. Our current lives are all we have (all we ever have, really). At some point, we make the decisions about what stories to tell ourselves, we make the decisions about which beliefs & attitudes we use to judge (or not judge) our circumstances.

We can spend our entire lives wishing for something better, and then die. Or, we can try to accept what we have while we've got it.


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