Free Press Journal

How mood influences thinking


woman with thought bubble on chalk board

The mood acts like a filter. Emotional events of the same emotion produce a bigger response, writes DR SHRIRANG BAKHLE.

“Normally, I am a very calm and cool person. But I don’t know what came over me yesterday. I was shouting at and scolding everyone – colleagues, husband – even children. Now I am feeling so bad about it.” Everyone has gone through such experiences or at least, seen such changes in people’s behaviour. This is one of the ways in which moods influence thinking. How exactly does it happen?

The emotions are produced by the Emotion Centres of the brain. At different times, different Emotion Centres are active. So at different times we are in different moods: Happy mood or unhappy mood (sad mood, angry mood or anxious mood). That mood determines how your mind works and how you will react – in many different ways.

The mood acts like a filter. Emotional events of the same emotion produce a bigger response. For example, if you are in a happy mood, every small happy event will produce a bigger smile and happiness. Suppose a college student goes to the college. As usual, his friends make fun of him (and each other). Now, will he enjoy the leg-pulling or will he become irritated? It depends on his mood at the time of going to the college. If he is in an angry mood, he will become irritated at his friends’ behaviour. This will lead to angry outbursts which will make the situation more irritable.

On the other hand, if he is in a happy mood at the time of going to college, he will take his friends’ leg-pulling light heartedly and will enjoy it. This enjoyment will make him happier.

Thus the pre-existing mood acts like a filter. If you are in happy mood, all the happy events will give you more joy
and all the unhappy events will produce less unhappiness. As every stand-up comedian knows, once he gets the audience into a laughing mood, even minor jokes elicit considerably more laughter.

The unhappy mood, too, acts like a filter. If you are in an unhappy mood, all the small pricks of life will elicit considerably more unhappiness while joyous events will produce much less joy. For example, if you are in an unhappy mood, even small problems like ‘things falling from the hand’ or ‘having to wait in a queue’ will produce much more irritated reaction than normal. On the other hand, small joys (such as seeing beautiful flowers) will not elicit any happiness.

“How was your day today?” If someone asks you this question, what will be your answer? This answer, too, is influenced vastly by the mood. Suppose there were four happy events and four unhappy events during the day. If you were in an unhappy mood, the four happy events will produce less happiness. At the same time, the four unhappy events will generate a much more intense unhappiness. So what will be your tally for the day? Four major unhappy events and four slightly happy events.

Conclusion: The day was an unhappy day! Is this the correct conclusion? For a calm person, the day would be equally happy and unhappy. But for a person with the unhappy filter, the conclusion would really be an unhappy day! And then, this conclusion itself would cause even more unhappiness!

Now, if this unhappy mood continues for many days, what would the person conclude? “My life is full of unhappiness.” This is in spite of the fact that his or her life had an equal share of happy events and unhappy events. This is how people with depression conclude that their life is an unhappy life. Sometimes this erroneous conclusion makes them want to end the life.

On the other hand, we can find people who are always in a cheerful mood. Suppose this person encounters four happy events and four unhappy events in a day. Because of the filter effect, the unhappy evens will not prick the person much, while the happy events will produce a good amount of happiness. This person’s conclusion: It was happy day! Thus the cheerful people find the life happy and easy.

One other peculiar property of the mind is that we think more about the emotional events (happy or unhappy) than the unemotional events. Now let us combine this fact with the abovementioned mood filter. If you are in an unhappy mood you will keep thinking more and more about the unhappy events. So you will spend more time being unhappy. But if you are in a happy mood, you will think more about the happy events – leading to more happiness!

A strangely true take-home message: Cheerful mood is not only the goal but also the means of achieving it! If we try and change our mood from unhappy to happy, it can make a vast difference in life!