My parents had little tolerance for my sister and I being “down at the mouth.” “Buck up, Child” would be a common response to whining, boredom, discontent, irritability. This really riled me. “As if I can control my feelings,” I’d say to myself.
Well, younger Sheelagh, you CAN change the way you feel. In fact, responding to life, rather than reacting to what comes your way is the very definition of being human.
In our book, Yes, You Can…Find More Meaning in Your Life, my co-author Jack Jonathan told this story of his teenage years. (page 29)
Many years ago, I was working late and had to study for exams. I felt stressed by my job and the anxiety of passing the exams. I suppose the stress showed because a Hindu captain who sat across from me on the bus asked why I was unhappy. I told him how difficult things were at work and at home – trying to earn a living when I had never earned a living before. He gave me some advice that I have never forgotten. He said if I went home feeling this way the whole family also would feel bad. He said I could change my state of unhappiness and anxiety by acting happy. He told me that after I left the bus, I should start whistling a tune of a beautiful song and whistle it all the way home. I followed his advice. By the time I rang the bell, I was in a totally different frame of mind.
For me, it is not just that “whistling a happy tune” changed Jack’s mood. The key part of this story for me is that by changing his perspective on life he was able to help his family. His father had died when Jack was still in school, and his mother had to rely on him to support the family. His sister said they never guessed how difficult this was for him. Jack not only supported the family financially, but he did so without burdening them with his own suffering. The real reason for changing your mood is to lift up all those around you.
What helps you change your mood: music, exercise, a funny movie, a coffee date with a friend or…?