My two daughters often go into lengthy, extravagant sulks at the slightest provocation. Last week I was trying to explain to the older daughter that she didn’t have to be so unhappy for so long and so often but that she could choose the mood she wanted to be in. It’s not the events that make you unhappy, I said, it’s the way you choose to react to them.
Nuh-uh, she said (or words to that effect). It’s not that easy. How do you choose to feel differently?
Umm…good question. The answer came to me in the form of a Twitter post on this very subject. I was deeply impressed, and I shared the original article by Dave Navarro on Facebook. A couple of people commented that they would be interested to see how I would translate the article into a kid-friendly form.
It’s hard to interpret tone online; I wasn’t sure if the comments were intended to be enthusiastic and encouraging, if they were issued as a challenge, or if they were written with a skeptical, good-luck-with-that tone.
A handy tip to happy moods: if somebody says something that can be taken two ways, and one of them makes you unhappy, then assume they meant the other one. So in the spirit of enthusiasm and encouragement, here is the kid-friendly version of Dave Navarro’s “How to train yourself to be in the mood you want”.
(Please excuse the amateurish BeFunky-ing of family photos to illustrate this post; there’s a reason I’m a writer and not an artist.)
How to train yourself to be in the mood you want – for kids.
But you don’t have to stay stuck there. You can train yourself to get out of that bad mood and make yourself happy again, and to take positive steps to make your life happier.
We’re going to use seven steps to do this, and we’re using the words “ACT FAST” to remind us what those steps are. (A man called Dave Navarro kindly and cleverly came up with these seven steps, and we’re really grateful to him for doing so. Here’s the link to the grown-up version of “ACT FAST”. http://www.rockyourday.com/how-to-train-yourself-to-be-in-the-mood-you-want/ ).
Step One: Agree with yourself that you don’t want to be in this mood right now.
Sometimes we need to be unhappy for a while. Maybe your pet has just died, and you need to spend some time being sad about it instead of trying to pretend that it didn’t happen. Or maybe we’re not really sure how we feel about a problem we’re having and we need some time to think about it.
But if it’s not that kind of situation, then you need to tell yourself it’s time to move on. You know what it’s like when other people try to cheer you up, and you’re not ready to be cheered up; the more they try, the more you want to stay upset. But if you agree with yourself that you don’t really want to be in your bad mood anymore, then you’re not giving yourself permission to sulk or stay upset. You don’t really want to stay feeling bad forever, do you?
For example, what if your best friend has told you that they don’t want to be your friend anymore, and you’re really upset about it. You could say to yourself, “I’m ready to stop being sad about this now”, and go on to Step Two.
Step Two: Clarify the mood you want to be in.
It’s not enough to decide what you don’t want, you have to decide what you do want. How do you want to be? Happy? Calm? Loved? In control? Friendly? Generous? Kind?
Decide on the feeling you want, and put it together with the last step. So now you might be saying to yourself something like, “I’m ready to stop feeling sad and start feeling loved.”
Step Three: Take responsibility for the way you feel.
You are the only person who can change the way you feel, so now is the time to remind yourself of that. This can be a tricky bit, because it means you have to stop blaming other people for the way you feel. It doesn’t mean you have to completely forgive your friend – they were still mean to you, and you don’t have to pretend that they weren’t – but focusing on what they did to you will not make you happy.
Now you’ll be saying to yourself something like, “I’m ready to stop feeling sad and start feeling loved, and I’m going to make that happen right now.”
At this stage, you learn to stop thinking about the things that are upsetting you. Instead, you’ll be able to see that there are things you can do to improve your situation.
In our example, you’ll ask yourself, “What do I need to focus on to make myself feel loved?” Maybe you’ll go to the people in your family and give them a big hug, and enjoy them hugging you back. Maybe you will spend some time with your other friends and enjoy their company. Maybe you will write a list of all the qualities you have that make you a good friend.
Write down the answers to your question and keep it safe for later. It will be helpful to look at again whenever that bad feeling comes back.
Step Five: What do you need to act on to feel better?
Now comes the fun part – doing things that will make you feel better. This step doesn’t have to be about yourself or about your problem. Sometimes if you can’t figure out how to make yourself happy, then focus on making other people happy. This makes you feel helpful instead of helpless. For example, you could send a happy email to a friend or family member, or pay a compliment to somebody, or help someone else with a problem they’re having.
This is also the part where you would take action on the things you came up with in Step Four.
Step Six: What do you need to surround yourself with to feel better?
Your surroundings are really important to keep you in a good mood. Maybe clean and tidy surroundings make you happy –so go clean your room! Maybe you like cheerful music – spend a little time listening to your favourite tunes. Or maybe you prefer quiet – go sit in a quiet room and enjoy the silence. Maybe you like nice smelling things – ask your parents if you can light a scented candle. Maybe being outside and close to nature makes you feel good – so go do that. It doesn’t matter what you like, you just have to know what it is and be ready to change your surroundings when you need to.
Step Seven: What do I need to tell myself to feel better?
Now you put together all the steps you’ve already used and tell yourself exactly what you are going to do. Using the “best friend” example, it might look something like this:
“I am ready to stop feeling sad, and start feeling loved, and I’m going to make that happen right now. I’m going to focus on my loving family, my other friends who love me, and the qualities I have that make me loveable. I have everything I need to make myself happy.
I’m going to hug my family and spend time with my other friends. I will also pay a compliment to three people I know and help somebody else who needs me. In the meantime, I’m going to put on some headphones and listen to my favourite music.”
(Unless your favourite song is “Kill Everybody” by Skrillex. Don’t play that.)
If all of this seems like too much work, don’t worry – once you’ve practised it a few times, you won’t have to go through all the steps to cheer yourself up. Sometimes just asking yourself, “What do I have to do right now to feel a bit better?” is enough to get you moving in the right direction.