- Our current moods set up “emotional filters” that only let thoughts, memories, and emotions that are congruent with those moods through.
- Competing (maybe positive) thoughts, memories, and emotions get filtered out by your attentional system when you are feeling down.
- Developing emotional intelligence and learning to direct your attention and thoughts away from negative cues can let you shift your experience.
Now ask yourself: Why do I have to wake up tomorrow feeling the same way I did today? The truth is that you don’t.
Changing Your Negative Experience and Thoughts
The main reason for the continuation of negative experience lies in how your brain’s attention and memory systems work. But each day you wake up, you don’t have to tell yourself the same painful story.
What if you lost your memory overnight and forgot the painful experiences and tortured thoughts you were having today. Would you still feel sad and anxious? I think not. You would literally wake up with a new outlook on life — one that is fresh and clean.
At this point, you might wonder if I am suggesting staying in negative circumstances. But that is not at all the case. If you woke up in a negative environment and experienced pain, you would probably get out of there and change your environment. So, why don’t you? If you say it is not that simple, then you probably need to consider whether the problem is with the situation or with the story you are telling yourself about it.
For example: Let’s say that this afternoon I have a disagreement with my wife about how to handle a behavior problem with one of our children. I then have a difficult conversation with that child in front of my wife. The result might be that the child has a strong negative emotional experience, I feel bad and dysregulated, and my wife feels bothered that she had to witness the exchange and see her child have a negative experience.
You might know people who would bounce back from this and 30 minutes later it is like nothing happened. You also might know people for whom the negative experience lasts all day or beyond. If I or my partner are in depressive mood states, we might perceive more negative emotions in each other and respond to each other assuming disapproval or bad feelings where they need not (or may not) really exist.
Our current moods set up “emotional filters” that only let thoughts, memories, and emotions that are congruent with those moods through. Competing (maybe positive) thoughts, memories, and emotions get filtered out.
In a recent paper on happiness at Widener University, clinical psychology doctoral students David Albert, Amanda Blazkiewicz, Ariful Karim, and Ariana Swenson, uncovered the following:
Research has demonstrated that when we are socially anxious or otherwise in a negative mood state, we are more likely to perceive that others are in negative mood states even when they are actually feeling neutral or happy (Garcia & Calvo, 2014). Obviously, if we think that others are looking at us with negative expressions, we are likely to tell ourselves a negative story that will further increase our own bad feelings.
Another study by Beevers et al. (2009) showed that, when people are in more negative moods, they are likely to perceive more negative moods in others. The authors of this study suggested that partners of those who are depressive might need to regularly focus on exaggerating their positive expressions in order to compensate for this effect. Over time, this might cause undue stress on the relationship and lead to more negative feelings. So, you can see that over time being in a negative mood could actually increase the chance that you will get even more depressed and less likely that you will be able to shift your focus to positive experiences.