A few days ago, I was extremely upset. It’s too complicated to explain the whole situation, but an encounter left me feeling anxious, agitated, under attack, and sad. I did what I could to resolve the situation, but I still felt terrible.
When I have a day like this, I try to make it a good bad day. I take the steps that tend to make me feel better or, if they don’t make me feel better, at least give me the kind of day on which I can look back with satisfaction.
To have a good bad day, I made sure to do the following things.
2. Do something nice for someone else. The first part of the second splendid truth is “One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy” (also known as the “do good, feel good” provision). I sent out some emails that I knew would be useful for other people. Doesn’t sound like much, but it took a lot out of me.
3. Stop ruminating. My inclination was to go over and over the details of the upsetting episode and to conduct imaginary arguments. Instead, I tried to keep my resolution to find an area of refuge. Studies show that dwelling on negative thoughts amplifies their power in your mind. In fact, some researchers suggest that a reason that more women suffer depression than men is that women are more likely to “overthink,” while men are better at distracting themselves from negative thoughts.
5. Tackle a nagging task. Crossing things off a to-do list is energizing and cheering. I took the time to clear my desk — not just physically removing piles of papers, but also doing the tasks that the papers represented. Copying research notes from various sources, making a dentist’s appointment, and making progress on my blog re-design gave me a feeling of control and accomplishment.
6. Do something silly and lighthearted with my children. I videotaped my four-year-old as she danced and sang in her mermaid costume with her new mermaid doll, and we had a family bubble-blowing extravaganza. And, throughout all these steps, I tried to…
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8. Ask for help. I said to my husband, “I really need to talk to you. I’m really upset, I want to tell you what happened today and talk to you about it, okay?” Being a sympathetic listener isn’t my husband’s strongest point, and, truth be told, he wasn’t very comforting — but I think that by explaining that I needed him to try to do his best to help, I did help him do the best he could.
8. Go to sleep early. It’s true, everything does look better in the morning. Also, the longer I work on my happiness project, the more importance I give to sleep. Getting enough sleep just makes a tremendous difference to happiness.
When I woke up the next morning, I felt better. The situation still upsets me, but not as much as it did. When I have a bad day, it helps to have a good bad day.
Have you found any strategies for making a bad day better? What works for you?
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Gretchen Rubin, author of two New York Times bestsellers, is our go-to gal for the best get-it-together know-how. Every week, she'll be dishing up her wisdom straight from her popular blog, The Happiness Project, to get you on the road to a more productive, healthier you. Here's to a 2014 resolution that sticks!