National Post (Latest Edition)
Author shares wisdom about both halting and getting past those downward spirals
The Book of Moods: How I Turned My Worst Emotions Into My Best Life Lauren Martin Grand Central
We hear a lot about moods these days. “This is a mood” is something a gen-z Youtuber might declare after modelling a new outfit. “That’s a mood” is apparently teenage slang for “I sympathize.” “Current mood” — when written on a picture of, say, Kim Kardashian ugly-crying or a toddler who’s fast asleep despite having fallen into the toilet — is a viral meme, used to indicate one’s general malaise- cum- despair. In a year that’s felt like one giant dark cloud, moods have permeated the zeitgeist.
In The Book of Moods: How I Turned My Worst Emotions Into My Best Life, author Lauren Martin asks us to think much more, and much more deeply, about moods. As the creator of the Words of Women Instagram account, which features quotes from notable women — including famously “moody” ones, from Bette Davis to Zaha Hadid — Martin has long been mining women’s wisdom for shortcuts to equanimity and fortitude, for road maps to navigate out of her frequent funks. In her turn as a selfhelp author, she’s assumed the role of the women she admires, doling out advice to a specific audience — or perhaps a broad one, depending on your take: women prone to mood swings.
Martin asserts that that’s all of us, at one time or another. She points to studies showing that the same physiological functions that inform “women’s intuition” and prime them to respond to maternal needs — including a constantly active paralimbic cortex, the part of the brain that filters emotional reactions to the environment — make them susceptible to the blues. If the idea of a “moody woman” sounds untenably sexist or reductive to you, or one more among a litany of euphemisms used to dismiss and discount women’s capabilities, or reminiscent of labels designed to spawn centuries of oppression, à la “female hysteria” — Martin’s book will probably fail to win you over, try as it might.
But if you’ve found yourself, as she has, stewing for hours over a single rude encounter, or disproportionately exasperated by a flight delay, you might choose to buy into her premise and take from it what you can. I did — chiefly because, after nearly 15 years of living in Manhattan, I haven’t exactly watched myself grow more Zen. The city’s stressors have overtly affected my disposition a time or two … thousand. I’ve allowed myself to loop through comically petulant inner monologues while standing in unexpectedly long lines, recognizing all the while that the line wasn’t out to get me; yet here I clearly was, out to get myself.
Certain mood- inciting triggers of Martin — a cutting remark from a family member, an “aggressive email,” a torturous night of insomnia — I instantly recognized as my own.
In Martin’s view, “moody women” aren’t bound to stigmas. They aren’t irascible, irrational or hormonal in a vacuum. ( Although she argues that hormonally charged reactions are real and should be honoured, rather than tamped down and shamed.) They are intuitive members of a postmodern world, who allow emotional responses to fester. They see a picture of their friends hanging out on Instagram, and spend the evening devising worst- case reasons for why they weren’t included. They are women for whom answering the question “what do you want to do for dinner” on a day they’ve been unrelentingly depleted by “decision fatigue,” feels herculean.
They allow inconvenient circumstances to take on outsized implications: “It’s not just a broken air conditioner, it’s another reason we’ll never be able to pay off our student loans.”
Martin’s tools for dismantling the moods borrow from cognitive therapy, Buddhism, New Age pop psychology and neuroscience. They are more than a little familiar, even for the self- help- uninitiated. The idea that “most of the discomfort in our life stems from the inability to be present” and mind tricks like “anxiety reappraisal” — essentially reframing your outlook, via affirmations, from negative to positive — are hardly revelatory.
Indeed, Martin traffics in so many clichés that by the time I read the words “at least you have your health” on page 242, I caught myself rolling my eyes before moving on.
And yet, as the cliché goes, clichés are cliché for a reason. And in the case of easy- to- recognize, hard- to- implement advice — like the bit about grounding ourselves in the present moment — repetition in fact becomes key in order for ingrained, insidious thought patterns to finally be broken. Can you ever really hear good advice too many times?
Martin’s message is relatable, though she isn’t always. Someone who can be emotionally derailed by a crowd at Whole Foods or the unexpected closing of the fancy bar at The Plaza, isn’t exactly reading the room.
But her point, as I chose to see it, is that the triggers that send us flailing down indignant spirals, that make us feel “personally attacked by the small events of life,” are often, in the scheme of things, painfully trivial.