Sunday, January 14, 2007

In the mood

Yesterday I was in a foul and miserable mood all day. I was certainly not much fun to be with although I cannot really say why. Presumably we all have days a bit like this -- for me they generally are gone after a bit of rest, but they are characterised by physical symptoms (lack of appetite, pressure behind the eyes, heavy limbs) as well as psychological aspects (general irascibility, an inability or lack of desire to enjoy anything, the feeling of generalised irritation at what other people are doing). It's a wonder anyone tolerates me in such moments, and I am ashamed to say that it is my family who suffer the most.
I don't think it's anything dramatic enough to make me concerned about my general mental health, so I guess that it's something that is to some extent or other true of most people's lives. Today, happy to be out of the mood, I began to wonder how best to characterise that state. I don't think it's right to label it an emotion, like anger for example. For one thing, it is much longer lasting than an emotion is usually and it is more like a general disposition to certain kinds of emotion. I am, in one of these moods, more likely to be angry at pettier things or perhaps to respond with a greater degree of anger than I would usually think the situation warrants. Furthermore, unlike an emotion (in so far as I understand what an emotion is), these moods do not themselves seem to have intentional objects. The emotions dictated or encouraged by the mood may well (e.g. I can be angry at the pile of untidied Lego bricks on the floor) but the mood itself (a general irritability or lack of tolerance) does not. On the other hand, these moods are not very long lasting. In my case, as I said, these bad moods generally last no more than a day (I'm thankful to say) and afterwards I can look at my odd behaviour in retrospect with a sense of embarrassment and distance. So it seems that a mood is not a character-state or a general disposition. There are some people who are irascible characters; a quickness to anger is a more or less permanent feature of them. But moods are not like that.
Doing a quick search, I found the following at Philosophy etc.

In addition to such fleeting feelings as joy or distress, our mental lives exhibit a longer-term emotional character, which we might call 'mood'. Over a period of several months, one might characteristically exhibit (any one of) depression, irrepressible cheerfulness, or anything in between. One's mood, so understood, may be a kind of disposition to react in certain ways, or to rally variously successful coping skills. It may manifest in one's general attitude towards life, as an optimist or pessimist, for instance.

This is in part what I want to say, but I would set what I want to label as moods as rather less long-lasting than is implied here. For me, they are best viewed as general dispositions to certain sorts of behaviour or, perhaps better, a certain overall perspective on one's life which varies either from day to day or, at most, month to month, although it's hard to set any firm temproal boundaries. Certainly I have in mind something more fleeting than several months.
It's pretty early days in my thinking about this, and I need to be somewhere where I can do a good literature search before I make any claims about what has or hasn't been said before. But I'm pretty convinced that there is a psychological phenomenon worth investigating which can profitably be labelled as a 'mood' and, or so it seems to me, this isn't something often remarked upon. In the area I know best, at least, ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, what I am interested in would fall between an emotion or pathos and a character trait or disposition, a hexis (or, for good dispositions, a virtue). Were ancient Greeks sometimes in a bad mood? It's not clear to me what the answer to this would be. More anon, I hope, provided I 'get out of the right side of the bed' tomorrow.

1 comment:

KAS said...

J: did you get out of the right-side today? My mood/disposition on Saturday was not helped too by the empty bottle of Pinot Grigio winking at me from the sideboard that morning, reminding me of over-indulgence post-Eagle (which was great fun, nonetheless).