The Santa Rosa Look

Remember the last time you were upset or depressed?  Try to remember what that time was like for you. What thoughts did you have? Maybe you believed life was miserable, or that you were beyond hope.

Now think of a time when you were happy or content. Perhaps that would be now. According to Siegel inThe Mindfulness Solution,” your thoughts are likely to be more positive.

We probably all know that our thoughts are dark when we are depressed and more positive when we are content. While we know this, we don’t pay attention to the effect it has on us.

Most likely we didn’t change that much between the two moods. We probably didn’t transform ourselves into a new person. The world didn’t become a more caring or cold place. Our view of the world and/or ourselves changed dramatically with the different moods.

Though our thoughts in different moods are often contradictory, we are sure our thoughts are accurate in each situation. We are an okay person and life is good when we are content, and we are losers and life is painful when our mood is depressed.

Our moods affect the way we view the world. If we are depressed, we tend to recognize other faces that are depressed faster than people who aren’t depressed. We also tend to expect more negative outcomes. When we are in a negative mood we often decide it’s because there is something wrong with us or we must have made bad decisions. Or there’s something so wrong with us that we make good choices and are still unhappy.

Mood-Dependent Thinking

British psychologists showed divers lists of words both underwater and on the beach.  When the divers’ memory was later tested in both locations, they were better able to recall words in the environment in which they were first learned. Memory is highly dependent on contextual cues. An example of this is when you visit your old elementary school or college–hundreds of memories come back.

Siegel points out the importance of this in our lives. What if the context for our thoughts is a mood?  If we were depressed the last time we felt discouraged, which is a likely event, our low mood was probably accompanied by self-critical, negative thoughts. So the next time we get sad or discouraged our mind is going to recall those negative thoughts.

Without understanding what is happening, we’ll likely believe in these thoughts as reality and get depressed again.  If we don’t realize that we’re re-experiencing past thoughts—hearing old tapes playing—we’ll take them as truth. Each time we go through a period of depression a deeper connection builds between low mood and negative thoughts, making it more likely that the cycle will repeat.

Our moods change like the weather, and with each change comes a different set of thoughts. When we’re in a  particular mood we tend to believe the thoughts that come with it. When we try to argue with ourselves and see the other side of things, it’s very difficult to believe any thoughts that don’t match our mood. It doesn’t matter that we had different thoughts yesterday.

Being mindful of thoughts as just thoughts is a step. Being mindful that your thoughts may be influenced through context and past learning rather than the current situation can also be helpful.

Mindfulness helps us become more aware of the ways our mind works and how not to be on a painful roller coaster.


Siegel, Ronald (2009). The Mindfulness Solution.  New York:  The Guilford Press.

Note to Readers:  If you haven’t participated, please consider answering the questions on my new survey about being emotionally sensitive. Results will be given in a future post. Thank you!

photo credit: dno1967bCreative Commons License