By Jessica Girdwain
Cranky? Grumpy? You can start to turn it around by avoiding these surprising mistakes.
Mistake #1: You Stop What You're Doing
Distracting yourself when you're stuck can help you find creative solutions to problems, but when you're in a bad mood you may want to focus on certain tasks. In a study from the University of New South Wales in Australia, shoppers on both bright sunny days (when they were feeling happy) and gloomy days (when they were cranky) took a memory test on 10 random objects at the checkout counter. Unhappy participants had better recall and accuracy compared to those with sunshine-y attitudes. Turns out being upset helps focus your mind. Rather than throw up your hands out of frustration at work, use this time to focus on projects that require a lot of your attention.
Mistake #2: You Turn on the Lights
You know better than to go home and crawl under the covers, but flipping on every lamp in your house may not be a great choice, either. New research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology revealed what happens to peoples' emotions when they're put under bright light and then exposed to stimuli like sad or happy words, aggression and spicy-hot foods. The academics found the lights intensified both positive and negative emotions. Why? Light is naturally associated with warmth, and this perception of heat triggers your emotional system. In a good mood? You feel better. Feeling blue? You'll feel worse. That doesn't mean you have to live in darkness. After a frustrating day, dimming the lights in your home can help.
Mistake #3: You Do The Dishes. Again
Making sacrifices for your partner (i.e. things you may not have wanted to do)—running out to get the dry cleaning when he needs it, dropping the kids off at school when it's his turn—typically brings couples closer. Those acts of kindness tend to reinforce your commitment to one another, but that only holds true after you've had a good day, research in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships suggests. After stressful ones, relationships didn't benefit when one partner did favors for the other. It could be because when one person has a bad day, both partners suffer—and that frazzled feeling ups the chances of snapping at one another. If you've had a terrible day, consider this a free pass to catch up on the novel that's been sitting on your nightstand and let him deal with resolving that cable bill by waiting on hold forever. (And give him the same pass the next time his day goes south.)
Mistake #4: You Agree to Disagree
Nothing has gone right, so what are the chances you'll bring a colleague around to your point? Zilch. Nada. Forget it. But maybe you should have that conversation. People who were upset could be more persuasive—even when arguing an unpopular position—than when they had sunnier dispositions, likely because they relied on using more concrete evidence to build their argument. So says 2007 research in the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology. Now's the time to get your point across in a tough situation. Tell your husband why you should head for a beach vacation over visiting your in-laws this summer or express to your boss a change that needs to be made in your department.
Mistake #5: You Try to Move On
You want this day to end. You want to put it behind you. Starting right now. That's smart, to be sure, except if there's something specific that's bugging you. In a 2010 study in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, people who were instructed to suppress a distressing thought prior to going to bed were more likely to dream about it, a phenomenon called "dream rebound." The lesson: It's okay to invite negative thoughts into your head. Simply acknowledging what happened or why you were angry and upset before sleep could be the ticket to sweet dreams—and a less grumpy tomorrow.