Moods. Psychology Fanatic article header image

Life’s a feeling experience. Certainly we see, smell and hear the world around us. We also experience the wonders of the vast world within as chemicals surge and deplete within our veins. All these experiential sensations are influenced by moods, magnifying the subsequent emotion. Feeling affects color the world. We experience a variety of feeling affects throughout the days, weeks and years of our lives. Some moods hold for extended periods while others quickly pass. Each of these states vary in degree and intensity. Our experiences intertwine with mood, color our perception, dictate the power of emotion, and influence memory. Our lives significantly improve when we invite soft positive changes to underlying moods.

​What are Moods?

When we speak of feeling, we often bundle emotions and moods together. However, they are subtly different. Emotions are directed towards a specific object or event (Kaplan, et al. 2016). We feel happy, sad or angry at a person. The emotion tags the object or person with significance. Events that elicited strong emotions are stored in memory with more clarity and detail.

A mood, such as feeling cheerful or blue, is an underlying affective state not directed towards any object or event (2016). Some days we feel off for no particular reason. Moods are not high arousal states but an underlying pleasant or unpleasant valence from which we perceive the world.

Paul Thagard, Ph.D., a Canadian philosopher and cognitive scientist, proposes that moods are dispositions to have emotions (2018).

​Distinguishing Moods from Emotions

Moods and emotions differ in three primary ways:

Long Lasting

Moods can last for hours, days or weeks. Emotions, on the other hand, erupt and die down within minutes. Moods are general
non-specific feeling affects not directed at any specific object or event. Emotions are feeling reactions to something. 

Low Arousal

Moods quietly operate in the background. Emotions can ignite with power, commandeering attention in instances of emotion such as terror, fear, anger, or exhilaration.

Impact Emotion

​Adele Lynn in his master piece, The EQ Difference, wrote, “Your emotional reaction often depends on your mood; therefore, your mood may predict your emotional reaction to certain events.” (Lynn, 2005,. P.58).

In a 2016 paper, Muk Yan Wong proposes we have a mood-emotion loop. He explains that mood and emotion have distinct mechanisms and that they “affect each other repeatedly and continuously” (page 3061).

Noticing an underlying mood provides a foundation to predict and correct emotional reactions. When I am in low a mood, I know that I am more likely to be upset with my wife, knowing my underlying feelings are coloring my perceptions, I can refrain from undeserved reactions to minor events that spark an emotion.

​Accurate predictions smooth experience, eliminating distasteful surprises. I may even warn my wife, “I’m in a sour mood this evening.”

“We are constituted so that simple acts of kindness, such as giving to charity or expressing gratitude, have a positive effect on our long-term moods. The key to the happy life, it seems, is the good life: a life with sustained relationships, challenging work, and connections to community.” 

~Paul Bloom

Moods have Evolutionary Utility

Moods are a biological fact of life. Going to battle against them feels futile, like using our puny hand to stop the flow of a great river. When we contend with the presence of a mood, we create greater conflict. We deepen the sourness by rejecting a part of ourselves.

Some people have a defensive approach, burying recognition to a negative mood, but their distancing fragments opportunity to adjust for the moods impact on emotional reactions.

Mark Thayer wrote, “mood systems have function and utility, or they would not be part of our biopsychology.” (Thayer, 1997, p. 76). Thayer argues that moods are a motivating and directing force, a quiet alarm to act or submit. Basically, sometimes we take on too much, life overwhelms, and our body gently nudges us to slow down. Because of our feeling state warning of depleted resources, small fluctuations in the environment create a greater demand on our system.

The mood shift is evolutionary when functioning properly. Mood disorders throw the alarms and whistles out of order, signaling danger when o threat exists.

If we are emotionally attuned to the subtle feeling affects, we can respond with wisdom, knowing when to tackle emotional issues and when to wait. But we are stubborn. We ignore signals, keep fighting, charging towards goals, dragging ourselves to the finish line or collapse trying.

​See Burnout for more on this topic

Changing Moods is a Human Condition

Moods are a human condition. We feel life. In our search for happiness, we cannot wish away the constraints of our biological existence. We cannot force our bodies to chemically react differently then they are not programmed to rect.

With acceptance and understanding, we can appreciate motivating highs, and gracefully with compassion listen to the lows.

Feeling States are Not the Enemy

Many treat low moods as enemies to be driven away and slaughtered with impunity. “Go away,” we chide, “leave me alone.” We attempt to think, force, and manipulate moods to morph into something better, lighter and joyful. These maddening attempts often send us tumbling deeper into the darkness, inviting more maladaptive thinking to restore order to our fragile sense of self.

​See Dangerous Beliefs for more on this topic

Improving Our Moods​

While we cannot change a feeling stated through sheer willpower, we can influence them indirectly by improving environments. 

We have both inner and outer environments. Outer environments are the world surrounding us. Inner environments are the internal sensations, thoughts and beliefs. Improving circumstances (relationships, finances, and health) has a direct impact on feelings of wellness. A key to balancing emotions requires work beyond attending to a particular emotion and doing the basics; a healthy diet, proper sleep, supporting relationships, and exercise.

See Wellness Basics and Nine Pillars of Wellness for more on this topic

Healthy inner environments also encourages better moods. Feeling states, also a part of the inner environment, are self perpetuating. A pleasant mood invites pleasant interpretations which perpetuates underlying positive affect. Yet, we can indirectly work impact the process by addressing faulty thought processes, recognizing reoccurring harsh self-judgements, and unearthing unhealthy beliefs. Self-kindness goes a long way to improving moods.

See Personal Acceptance for more on this topic

Recognizing Moods

To properly examine affective states, we must first recognize its presence. Only then, with a clear mind, can we address the obvious causes. Often, we discover physical causes are to blame. Our high-sugar snacks or purposeless channel surfing depresses the system and ignites a depressing mood. (Thayer, 1997, p. 218). 

By simply recognizing a mood, whether its bubbling inside us or motivating behavior in someone else, we can intentionally adapt to the influencing menace, and refrain from inappropriate harsh and hurtful judgments.

Our recognition can change the course of an interaction. Recognizing a low affective state, can help us reappraise a situation, refraining from a “hurtful” remark, and offering understanding.

A low depression colors mundane interaction with deep meaning that may not exist. When we recognize this, we can temper the catastrophic interpretation. Recognizing a low mood in a partner soothes our hurt ego, strengthening resilience without feeling overly sensitive. Their sullen or cutting words are understood against the mitigating backdrop of their difficult or frustrating day.

Mindfulness and Moods

A mindful approach to moods, moves from a problem solving approach to simply being (Williams, M.; Teasdale; Segal; Kabat-Zinn. 2007, Pg. 66). We allow the feeling states to exist without judgment. An internal battle over feeling can devastate well-being. We get dragged into a critical thinking maze, examining elements in and around our lives to blame or correct. This act of war against moods sharpens critical judgments and enhances our sorrows.

See Mindfulness for more on this topic

Our moods are not the enemy, only a function belonging to biological and learning beings in a complex and unpredictable environment. We react to experience. Our bodies create neurochemical imprints to enhance learning. We simply can’t label positive moods as good and bad moods as bad. Each mood has an evolutionary purpose (Bower, 2013). Mindfulness is a method of understanding the biological science behind moods and then stepping back to be an objective observer of the glorious and majestic events unfolding within our organism.

Learning from the Body’s Wisdom

Sometimes external circumstance are significant contributors to a mood. We may be struggling over a loss or drowning in anxiety. Behavioral change may be appropriate. The affective state sends a message conveying something isn’t right. We can thank our body for the timely message, grateful that a feeling affects are serving their purpose and then constructively get to work. However, not all body wisdom is clear, and we must patiently wait, recruiting professional help when necessary, and gathering more information.

When we understand the influencing power of moods on perceptions and emotions, we lessen misguided reactions. We wisely can incorporate the message into our reaction, integrating bodily wisdom with cognitive processes.

Through graceful acceptance of moods, we give feelings sufficient room to deliver guiding messages without us recoiling in hurt or hate, allowing them to teach, inviting a much brighter tomorrow. While a better understanding may not “save” us from the blues, the accepting knowledge will disentangle our mind from passionately being dragged carelessly into battle. Lower affective states become manageable, and oddly, sometimes carry a subtle feeling of peace—a knowledge that all is well.

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Bower, B. (2013, November 2). The Bright Side of Sadness: Bad Moods Can Have Unappreciated Mental Upsides. Science News, 184(9), 18.

Kaplan, R., Levine, L., Lench, H., & Safer, M. (2016). Forgetting Feelings: Opposite Biases in Reports of the Intensity of Past Emotion and Mood. Emotion, 16(3), 309-319.​

Lynn, A. B. (2005). The EQ Difference: A Powerful Plan for Putting Emotional Intelligence to Work. AMACOM; 1st edition. Retrieved from Kindle.

Thagard, P. (2018). What Are Moods? Psychology Today. Published May 23, 2018. Retrieved February 15, 2021.

Thayer, R. E. (1997). The Origin of Everyday Moods: Managing Energy, Tension, and Stress. New York: Oxford University Press.

Williams, M.; Teasdale, J.; Segal, Z.; Kabat-Zinn, J. (2007) The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. The Guilford Press; Paperback + CD-ROM edition.

Wong, M. (2016). The mood-emotion loop. Philosophical Studies, 173(11), 3061-3080.

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