A couple weeks ago, I had a real down-in-the-dumps day. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it because my life is normally good, and I’m grateful for so, so much.

But all our blessings can’t entirely erase our feelings of discontent. The blues just blow in, and we don’t want them hanging around too long, mucking up our journey toward long, happy life past the 60-year mark.

I’m not talking about depression here, but I do believe a whole heap of discontent can lead to depression if it’s left to fester. My recent blues were more of the whiny why-me-why-now sort.

Sure, I had reason to be grumpy. Business was off, paperwork was piling up and I was on my third day of an annoying bad back. But in my usual optimistic mood, none of those reasons could get me down.

That morning, part of me had a yen to get back under the covers, watch a sad movie and have a good cry. The better part of me decided to take a couple aspirin, put on my sneakers and walk to the library. I opted to boost my gloomy mood instead of wallow in it.

A Toolkit for Tough Days

As I walked, I listened to Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness podcast where she talked about creating a ‘blues bag’ for someone going through a tough time.

I started thinking about my own tools for ditching a bad mood, two of which I was doing right then: walking outdoors and going to the library. I also decided to treat myself to coffee at a waterfront café.

Your toolkit might include soaking in the tub with a few drops of peppermint oil or stirring up a big pot of Grandma’s chicken noodle soup. Maybe tidying your desk or looking through old photos does the trick. Pet lovers know the comfort of a dog’s head on your knee or a purring cat in your lap.

What usually makes us feel better is slowing down, being mindful and appreciating simple pleasures. I’m not above shopping therapy or indulging in a single scoop of ice cream or a glass of wine. But I’ve learned non-guilty pleasures fix me faster.

Sometimes, needlessly spending money and extra calories make me feel worse.

At the library that day, I drifted toward the new non-fiction books in search of research material for my ‘work’ as a life reporter. I stumbled upon Dr. Frank Lipman’s How to be Well. It almost fell open to a page titled Embrace Optimism.

Lipman writes, “Optimism may seem like an inauthentic approach, but choosing to see the good in life is just that – a choice. Actively directing yourself toward a sunnier outlook doesn’t have to be forced… Instead, make a commitment to navigate the everyday happenings of your life from a slightly brighter perspective… The good is always there.”

Phone a Friend?

When I’m in a bad mood, I tend to want to be alone. But sometimes, I wonder if solitude is the best approach.

Lipman’s advice was reassuring: “When times are hard and you’re feeling insecure, unsure, or simply unhappy, it’s natural to feel the pull to share your feelings with others. Yet continually voicing your difficulties can push you down a rabbit hole of negativity, ironically leading to increased disconnection from others, a poorer outlook on life, and even compromised health.”

So, maybe turning a book club into a bitch session isn’t a good idea. But putting on a smile, getting out around people and pretending your glasses are rose-colored works. Doing something sweet or helpful for someone is an immediate mood booster, and opportunities are endless.

Assist the stressed-out young mother settling her screaming baby into the airplane seat next to you. Smile at the grumpy old guy in the grocery store who looks like he lost his best friend. Maybe he did.

Like all emotions, dissatisfaction shows up in our tone of voice, our facial expression and the weight of each step. Some people are always discontented and become victims of their own lives.

Curmudgeons often end up alone because nobody likes to be around a crank. We need people in our lives who know us well enough to call us out if we slip a little too far from positivity.

I have a handful of people I could call day or night if I need some self-prescribed emotional support. I think of them as my personal board of directors, and I trust them to mostly listen and not to share my grumblings.

I also trust them to follow up if they suspect I need more than a phone call to get something off my chest. I hope they feel the same way about me.

In a Perfect World…

One of my best ways to plan a day is with a game I call “In a perfect world.” I’ll say to myself, “In a perfect world, I’ll have time to get gas, stop at the store and still be at work on time. The morning will go so smooth, I’ll be home for lunch. And then, wouldn’t a little afternoon nap be great?”

Some days, it’s just that perfect. Timing is spot on. The sun is shining. My mood is just right. Even traffic cooperates, and I say “thank you” for every green light.

But some days, chips fall the other way. My plans get derailed: bad news, a back ache, the washing machine is on the blink. Okay, so it’s not always a perfect world. But an optimistic outlook makes challenges seem so much less daunting.

Life doesn’t get easier as we get older. It just changes its colors, with different frustrations, aches and pains, disappointments and sorrows.

It’s our job to make the utmost of it – to wake up anticipating the good spots in our days, to travel over the low spots with grace and to look forward to what’s around the next curve.

What’s in your tough day toolkit? Who are the people who will let you know when you’re a little too gloomy? How do opt for optimism every day? Please get in on the conversation below!

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