Can feeling grumpy be good for you?

Moods1 I receive a mischievous communication from my very good friend Mark McGuinness who wants me to comment on a research article he has looked into, written by some ‘Australian psychologists’, which claims that being in a ‘bad mood’ can be ‘good’ for you.

Now, some of my best experiences in life have been prompted by my ‘bad’ moods. With the aid of those I have got rid of countless annoying relationships, irritating jobs and pointless activities. So my first thought was that – yet again – a bunch of overpaid academics were being subsidised to announce discoveries most of us learned in primary school. And that Mark had forgotten our many rambling midnight conversations about emotions and the meaning of life.

Yet I realised immediately that these gorgeous, Bondi-beach seeking academics have made yet another category mistake: While bad moods can, indeed, be ‘good’, those are not the same as ‘bad emotions’.

To remind you: there is no such thing as a bad emotion. Emotions are an expression of Bodymind
intelligence. A mood is different. It is a  Headmind attitude. It expresses a relationship between our attitudes and the world as we find it. You can read more about moods here.

A grumpy mood, for me, is a relationship based on suspicion. It means that I no longer trust that experiences, situations, people, or the Lord God himself are doing me any favours. And that, in turn, is a cue that I need to revise my trusting attitude towards these entities. I need to retreat, stand-off, complain, and have a moan. I may even need to disengage – permanently.

So yes – a grumpy mood can be good for you if it helps you get rid of your intellectual garbage.

The funny thing is that I actually find grumpy moods enjoyable. Entraining my suspicion and pessimism on the planet gives me a god-like sense of detachment and playfulness. It also gives me a playground for wit.

Rather like one of my favourite philosophers – Arthur Schopenhauer – who once wrote:

“If we were not all so interested in ourselves, life would be so uninteresting that none of us would be able to endure it.”

Come to think of it, Schopenhauer deserves an article all to himself, so I will write that next.

Why your most useful ideas are delusions

One very strange result of studies on depressed people is that they are a lot more realistic than the norm. Their judgments about what they can and can’t do, their predictions about events, and their guesses about what others really think about them, are a lot more accurate than non-depressed people. Even the bets they make are more likely to make a (small) profit. You can read more about this discovery here.

Studies on non-depressed people show that most of us are ‘unrealistic optimists’ who believe we have far more control over events, and more talents and skills than is actually the case. We also tend to be irrational in our judgments about the future. For example, most of us tend to over-estimate our scores on ability tests, exaggerate the differences between our own abilities and those of people in the same job, and have a rosier view of the future than experience warrants.

The fact is that pessimism is usually more realistic
than optimism. And this got me thinking about the difference between the two types of thinking.

Here are two lists that I have compiled more or less off the top of my head.

True ideas that will depress you:

  1. On average, 50% of your decisions will be wrong
  2. You are a lot less talented than you imagine
  3. Many of your achievements owe something to luck
  4. Any success you have will be temporary at best
  5. Most people you have met are indifferent to you
  6. You have little influence over your own life

Unrealistic ideas that will make you happy:

  1. You can make a difference
  2. You are special
  3. You are likeable to most people
  4. You have free will
  5. You make your own luck
  6. You are continually growing and learning how to be more successful

The bottom line is this: Headmind thoughts, beliefs and judgments – no matter how accurate they are – make NO difference to your quality of life.

Take another look at the two lists and ask yourself what the main difference is.

Here is what I notice: The first list is reactive (based on past experience), impersonal and leads nowhere. Depressed people may have many true thoughts but they avoid work, stay away from people and spend a lot of time being miserable.

The second list is personal, affirmative emotive, and leads to action – community work, self-development, communication, decision-making, risk-taking and experimentation. Following those activities will keep you engaged in life, and experiencing the full range of emotions from joy to despair – rather than just observing it. No matter whether the outcomes are unrealistic or not, the journey is everything.

There is a poem by Cavafy that illustrates this point, If Odysseus had thought about the journey home to Ithaka, and all the problems he was likely to encounter, he would never have started. Neither would he have been reunited with those he loved. And he would have missed out on some rich experiences. As we say, in Reverse Therapy, ‘Don’t think about it – just do it!’

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.


Life is so ridiculously simple that a child of five could get it

You have all heard the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. If you forgot, you can read it again here.

In the story, the adults are fooled by their own conditioning into believing that a thing must be true because the Emperor says it is so. Although the Emperor’s clothes are, in fact, invisible – everybody behaves as if they exist.

The child doesn’t see the clothes because he is not deluded by other peoples’ rules about authority, about obedience, and about reality.

We all grow up with these rules. Some rules are open-ended, useful and benign. For example – rules that say we should give other people a fair hearing, or that we should check the facts and get advice before making important decisions.

Other rules are rigid, obsessional and malignant. For example – rules that say that some people belong to an inferior race, or that we are ‘evil’ if we disobey our parents.

Some rules can actually cause delusions. Meaning that Headmind ignores, over-rides or distorts what our eyes and ears tell us.

Here are a few examples:

  • Some people don’t ‘hear’ their children being rude because they have a rule that children should be treated differently from adults.
  • Some people don’t feel anger because they were taught that anger is ‘bad’ and should be ignored.
  • Some people don’t ‘see’ their partners showing them love because it was drilled into them that they are unlovable.
  • Some people don’t notice they are getting stressed because they are under an obligation to be SuperWoman.

Until a child goes to School his exposure to conditioning is generally minimal (although some parents do start way too early). This gives him a number of advantages:

  1. Living in the moment. Do you remember how endless the summer holidays were when you were a child? Because each day was spent in eternity?
  2. Spontaneous expression of emotions. So a child can be gentle one moment, angry the next and laughing a minute later – living in the stream of feeling and going with the flow.
  3. A child tells things they way they seem to her – not the way they ought to be.
  4. The child doesn’t pretend to be someone she is not (except in play) so her energy isn’t exhausted by acting a part.
  5. Connected to Bodymind – fully aware of their changing feelings, needs and perceptions.
  6. Creative, playful and imaginative. Playing infinite games rather than finite games.

So In Reverse Therapy we argue that the Child of Five ‘gets it’ when Adults often don’t. In fact the heading to this blog could say:

Life is So Ridiculously Simple that ONLY a Child of Five could get it.

If we adults are to get back to being wise we need to recognise, unlearn and release our conditioning and turn rules into choices, rather than obsessions. We can start that right now coming to our senses.

Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.
The Earl of Rochester

It will take just 37 seconds to read this and change your life

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room.

One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each day to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window.

The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back.

The men talked for hours on end.

They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their military service, their jobs, and their hopes and dreams for the future.

Every afternoon, when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his room mate all the things he could see outside the window.

The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods when his world would open up and be enlivened by all the activity, noise and colour of the world outside.

His friend told him that the window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and birds of every kind, while a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.

As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and visualise these picturesque scenes. He would sigh with happiness.

One warm afternoon, the man by the window described a parade passing by.

Although the other man could not hear the band, or see the soldiers in their fine uniforms, he could picture it all just as his friend described it.

Weeks later, the day nurse arrived one morning to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep.

Later, the hospital attendants came to take the body away.

As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked the nurse if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.

Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside.

He turned slowly to look out the window beside the bed.

It faced a blank wall.

Later on he learnt from the nurse that his friend was blind and could not even see the wall.

‘Why, then’, he asked ‘did he describe all these scenes he could not see?’

She said, ‘Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.’


There is tremendous happiness in making others happy, despite our own situation.

Grief, when shared, is halved. Happiness when shared, is doubled.

The solution to many of our own troubles is to help other people with theirs.