I've been called many things over the years, but "moody" isn't one of them. I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy, always looking to make lemonade out of any challenge life throws my way. My 8-year-old daughter's moods, on the other hand, can shift mid-syllable. Lately, I've been calling her on it—pushing her to keep perspective, to see the brighter side of things. It's one of the most important life skills I can pass to my children.
Recently, she was angry at the cat, which apparently wasn't willing to sit on her lap and be tortured, er, pet. I saw her brow furrowing, her eyes narrowing. "Smile," I told her.
"No!" she responded. "Why would I? I'm mad."
"Because it'll make you happy." She didn't believe me, but it's true. Faking a smile can reduce stress and turn your mood around. It's just one of the ways you can outsmart your mood. Here are four surprising happiness saboteurs, and simple remedies that will keep them from spoiling your day.
Bright sunlight. Squinting at the sun increases feelings of anger and aggression by up to 44 percent, shows new Italian research. Your mood and your facial muscles are linked, and the way your eyebrows dip and cheek muscles pinch when you squint mimics your expression when angry, explains study coauthor Daniele Marzoli, Ph.D. As a result, your PO’d face coaxes your brain toward feelings of irritation, Marzoli says. The simple solution? Sunglasses. Shades almost totally eliminate squinting, and in the process tempers your temper.
Your coworkers or roommates. Bad moods are contagious, according to new Notre Dame research. After just 3 months, college students paired with down-in-the-dumps roommates started to exhibit their roomies’ pessimistic attitudes. A separate Harvard study found spending time with ill-tempered friends or coworkers also torpedoes your mood. When other people discuss your life, job, or surroundings in gloomy ways, your brain can’t resist soaking up that negative feedback. To counteract this effect, buy your glum buddy a coffee. Even if the gesture doesn’t perk him up, committing random acts of kindness will brighten your mood, research shows.
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Other people’s Facebook pics. Among roughly 350 Facebook users, 9 percent felt angry, frustrated, or both after perusing their friends’ photos, finds a study from two German universities. Even more startling: Life satisfaction dipped an average of 15 percent among the picture peekers, the researchers say. Why? Checking out shots of your buddies hiking exotic locales or relaxing on vacation can trigger feelings of envy, misery, and loneliness. The remedy? Take a look at your own Facebook photos. Revisiting your personal adventures soothes your temperament, reveals research from the University of Portsmouth in the UK.
Your empty water bottle. Even slight dehydration can dry out your good humor, according to a British Journal of Nutritionstudy. Whether you’re working out or kicking back on your couch, the more parched you feel, the more your mood plummets, the research shows. It’s possible your body detects dehydration and communicates your thirst to your brain’s mood regulators, resulting in crankiness. Not sure if you’re under-watered? If your urine isn’t plentiful and pale-colored first thing in the a.m., you’re not drinking enough, says Stacy Sims, Ph.D., a hydration researcher at Stanford University.
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Writing by Markham Heid; additional research by Cassie Shortsleeve, Kat Clark, Jaclyn Ulman, and Lara Rosenbaum.