Can You Change Your Mood Set Point?

By Jenn Rose Smith

One of the sneakiest things about bad moods is that we often don’t recognize when we’re in one. Instead, we start drawing dangerous conclusions: I’m just unlucky. Things are never going to work out for me. Everything’s wrong. These dark thoughts are powerful, and can have real consequences in our lives. If you find yourself defaulting to a bad mood over and over again (in the shower, on your commute, at work, etc.) you might want to consider doing some work to raise your mood set point.

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept of a mood “set point”, it’s a popular idea that’s been floating around psychology for the last 35 years. The theory arose from a study conducted on a group of lotto winners in the late 1970s, which revealed that the winners (after the initial high of winning wore off) weren’t any happier than a second group of people who had suffered spinal cord injuries. Point being, research supports the idea that we each have a set level of happiness we tend to return to over and over throughout our lives, regardless of circumstance. Say hello to your mood “set point”.

So, what factors decide where your set point falls on the happiness scale? Researchers say we have our parents to thank for our unique mood set point, which (in theory) is 100% genetic. From that perspective, a mood set point is unchangeable. It’s as absolute and predestined as your fingerprint. The good news is that even those experts who believe in the genetic set point think that it probably only accounts for about 50% of our overall mood at any given time. Which means there’s a lot you can do to change your day-to-day happiness levels, no matter what Mom and Dad were like.

Personally, I inherited my sensitivity and a large emotional range from my mother. But I believe that where I tend to hang out within that spectrum is totally up to me. I’d describe my natural demeanor as calm, relaxed, and cheerful — I tend to return to that state over and over after (sometimes extreme) emotional highs and lows. Some might say that I’m genetically lucky, but the truth is I work at maintaining the mood I want to be in. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned over the past decade that I’ve found to be highly effective when it comes to catching a good mood and riding that wave:

featured image by wit&delight

Increase awareness of your own expectations.

Almost every bad mood starts with a disappointment. It rained the day of your backyard party. Your new haircut didn’t transform you into a supermodel. He didn’t call when you thought he would. Our expectations are incredibly tied to our moods, which would suggest that there is some good logic behind keeping your expectations in check. One of my favorite artists, Ray Wylie Hubbard, is fond of saying, “The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, I have really good days.” While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend keeping your expectations low, it’s good practice to keep your expectations general. Example: I don’t know what the weather will be like the day of my party, but I’m looking forward to sharing some quality time together with the people who come.

image via theyallhateus

Squash competitive thoughts.

Competitive thoughts are tricky — we often don’t realize that they stem from a dark underlying belief that there isn’t enough good to go around. Once you recognize that there’s actually more than enough good to go around, you’ll realize that the successes of your friends and peers don’t hurt your chances of succeeding at all. If anything, they probably help your chances. Think about it — successful people hang out with other successful people, right?

image via free people

Default to optimism.

Our thoughts are the most powerful tool we have when it comes to mood control. Did you know that it’s actually physically impossible to think about two things at once? Practice thinking optimistic thoughts as often as you can. It could be as simple as I’m lucky. Good things are coming. It’s good to be me.

image via j crew

Reframe the situation.

When we take the time to really think about the things we love, we’re instantly in the act of enjoying them. And that’s living. Right now. Gratitude can also help us to reframe the inevitable disappointments of life (see above). The next time you’re feeling disappointed about a situation, challenge yourself to see if you can change your mood about it. Reframe the situation by finding things to be grateful for and considering worse scenarios that (thankfully) didn’t happen.

photo by justin hackworth

Find compassion.

The most unhappy people I know are also the most self-involved people I know. They are never free from worrying about themselves and their problems. They haven’t realized that by listening to a friend’s problems, or just volunteering for an hour or two, they could get a much needed break from their own worries. One of my favorite quotes from our #31Mornings campaign is this one from Mark Twain: “The best way to cheer yourself up is to try and cheer someone else up.” Always be on the lookout for those around you in need, and don’t be afraid to extend some of your time and energy towards helping others. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels.

image by viet bao

Get moving.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a sad sap who consistently worked out all the time. Seriously — those things just can’t exist in the same space. One of the simplest ways you can raise your mood set point is by incorporating daily exercise into your life. Go for a jog outside, grab a friend for a game of tennis, or try out a candlelit yoga class. Make movement a priority in your life and you’ll be rewarded with better moods, more often.

image by the covetuer