If you’ve ever sulked through the day just waiting for it to be over, only for someone to walk up and comment on your bleak mood with a “Wow, someone’s in a bad mood,” it can pull you even deeper into dreariness. Weirder yet is the fact that you can be in an actually okay mood, but being accused of being in a bad mood will immediately ruin it.
Listen, we’re not in a bad mood, we’re fine. Okay?
Still, we wanted to know why this happens, so we talked to some experts.
Reason #1: Your Being Unhappy Makes Other People Uncomfortable
“We live in a culture that values positivity and ‘a good attitude,’ which means always being in a good mood,” says Tina Gilbertson, a Denver-based psychotherapist and the author of Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings By Letting Yourself Have Them. “If someone notices you’re in a bad mood, it’s as if they’re calling you out on something embarrassingly inappropriate. It can feel shaming even if it’s not meant that way.”
In a sense, since being outwardly upset is out of the ordinary in our society — especially for adults — someone pointing out you’re in a bad mood can make you feel like a child. In the adult world, your slight grimace and short answers are the grown-up equivalent of kicking and writhing around on the floor. You can’t control your emotions, you child. This shame compounds your bad mood, and now everything is terrible.
The antidote: “Be upfront and honest with yourself about your mood,” Gilbertson adds. Much like accurately identifying what you’re angry at, acknowledging your rotten mood and giving yourself permission to feel that way can be helpful. “Acceptance starts with you,” she concludes. “If someone asks and you don’t want to talk about it, you can just say, ‘Yes, but I’ll be okay. What’s up?’ Or, ‘Yes but don’t worry, it’s not about you.’”
Reason #2: You Don’t Even Know Why You’re in a Bad Mood in the First Place
The question can also hold a magnifying glass up to some of the darker insecurities you might have been ignoring. “Human beings interpret each other’s facial expressions, body language, tone, eye contact and other senses, unconsciously or otherwise,” says Lisa Bahar, a marriage and family therapist in California. “In some cases, an individual might read into the unspoken signals that the other may be feeling, but not expressing directly.”
In other words, in your mind, you’re just going about your day, but on the outside, you’re slouching, staring forlornly out a rainy window and sighing on every third breath. When another person senses this, for better or worse, they’ll ask you about it.
It’s like being on a hike and someone pointing out how hot it is. Oh God, it’s so hot, you suddenly realize, I’m on fire. This is the worst day of my life. The same goes for someone pointing out your bad mood: It makes you question your current status in life, which leads to all those Sunday night questions: Why am I in such a bad mood? Do I hate my job? What am I actually doing with my life? Should I start wearing my retainer again?
The antidote: Similar to Gilbertson’s advice, Bahar adds that you should take note of how you respond to this question. If you get defensive, it may indicate that the person is accurately picking up vibes you’re not even conscious of. “The next time you hear that comment, take a step back and observe how you’re feeling, and what you might be communicating,” she concludes. Yes, the question was annoying, but before you lash out, realize that it’s probably a good thing to acknowledge what you’re feeling, and to work to resolve what’s making you feel that way.
Until society acknowledges that being in a bad mood is normal, and that you don’t have to be radiating sunshine at all times, it’s best to acknowledge and accept your bad mood at the individual level.
Only when you know that you’re in a bad mood — and accept that you’re in a bad mood — will you be able to answer the “Are you in a bad mood?” question without dragging yourself deeper into the abyss: “Yeah, my team played until 3 a.m. last night only to lose, so I didn’t get any sleep. But I’ll come around.”
See? Isn’t it much better when you can express yourself like a grownup?