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The Effect of Your Mood on Your Thinking

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Oscar the GrouchRemember Oscar from Sesame Street? He was that lovable and irritable Muppet that Jim Henson created, who always complained and said things in negative ways. In fact, he always lived in a garbage can, by choice, just to let remind everyone about his complaining self.  Well, take heart fellow Oscars. Recent research shows that there are benefits to being in a bad mood. Why, its enough to make a grouch smile and feel good.

An Australian psychologist, Professor Joe Forgas, of the University of New South Wales, reports that a bad mood cam help us think more clearly. According to Professor Forgas, miserable people are better at decision-making and less naive as compared to the optimistic types. His conclusions are based on several experiments he conducted with large numbers of subjects.

Professor Forgas said: "Whereas positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, co-operation and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking, paying greater attention to the external world."

His studies also found that sad people were better at stating their case through written arguments. Forgas says that a "mildly negative mood may actually promote a more concrete, accommodative and ultimately more successful communication style."

He goes on to say that cheerfulness fosters creativity while gloominess breeds attentiveness and careful thinking.

By the way, his research can be found in the Australian Science Magazine.


What is appealing about these findings is that they are consistent with "positive psychology." There is a tendency to label feelings such as anger, moodiness, anxiety, and depression as pathological. This is not true. Everyone goes through periods of lows and highs, depending a lot upon what is happening in their lives, hormonal ebbs and flows, what they are eating and even weather conditions.

These "bad moods" are only a problem if they persist for a long time with no relief. If a depressed mood persists for more than two weeks, it could mean that the person is experiencing something that needs treatment.

In my family, when one of us is in a bad mood and one of us asks, "what is wrong," we have learned to respond by saying, "it is true, I am in a bad mood, but, it has nothing to do with you and it will pass." Or, we will respond, "yes, I am in a bad mood but I don't know why. Don't worry, it will pass."

Sometimes, going out for a run, bicycle ride or swim, will help the mood pass. My daughter will go and do yoga for an hour and feel much better afterwards.

It is also true that, if the bad mood is due to anger at someone in the family, we discuss it and work it through.

The point is, do not fret because you are in a bad mood. Its OK to be an Oscar when you need to be.