After my recent call for testimonials about right and wrong, Terry sent me the story below.
I like to think I'm patient and I give people the benefit of the doubt. I remember once standing in line with my wife at a movie theater in a very grumpy mood. Why so grumpy, I can't remember. I saw a couple apparently start another line, as if to bypass us. I yelled something unpleasant out to the guy in the couple and complained loudly. He looked at me like I was some kind of a nut and just ignored me. Later I realized his line was for something else and had nothing to do with what I was waiting for. The guy was right: I was some kind of a nut. I was mentally prepared for someone to do wrong by me, so that's what I instantly saw.
Terry’s anecdote demonstrates a simple but powerful fact: when in a bad mood, our judgments of right and wrong deteriorate, and we end up doing dumb things for dumb reasons.
Fortunately, the reverse of the medal is also true: when in a good mood, we usually make fewer dumb mistakes, though of course there’s no guaranteed way of stopping all mistakes.
These are some of the things I do regularly to affect my mood for the better and, indirectly, my judgment of right and wrong and the behaviors that follow from the judgment.
- I instantly feel boosted when I hear the Golden Gate Quartet, Louis Armstrong, Charles Mingus, the Miles Davis of “Kind of Blue,” or Ella Fitzgerald (except when she sings the bossa nova of my native Brazil, which she butchers with a not-so-infectious joy!). When I'm in a bad way, I listen to one of their CDs and I get good in a nanosecond.
- I’m a big fun of comic books and cartoons: Calvin & Hobbes, Peanuts, Fat Freddy’s Cat, The Muppet Show, Daffy Duck and his friends. (Actually, Daffy doesn’t have any friends. I meant his foes.) If I need mood therapy I watch a DVD or read a few pages from the anthologies in my library. Wile E. Coyote’s humiliating losses in battle make mine seem rather petty, so I give up my irritation and take it easy instead.
- Chocolate is a legal mood enhancer, packed with caffeine, theobromine, and many other chemicals that end in “-ine” (just as in “coca-ine” and “hero-ine”). A few ounces of dark chocolate can turn Scrooge into a pussy cat. Like all drugs, however, chocolate has unpleasant side effects: the unwillingness to eat your vegetables, diabetes, Flabby Belly Syndrome, you name it. But—hey, today I want my chocolate. Tomorrow’s another day.
- My childhood friend Debby and I like chatting in Portuguese on the phone, gossiping, whining, and telling each other all the terrible things we’ve done in recent days. Somehow when Debby laughs at my right-and-wrong struggles I go from upset to relieved, from grumpy to cheerful, from dumb to intelligent.
It’s best to use these tools preventatively. If you spend your days eating candy and watching cartoons on TV, you’ll be in a permanent good mood. In fact, your mood will be so good you won’t do anything wrong at all (other than spending your days eating candy and watching cartoons on TV!).