a long read
“You heal as you reveal”
Last year, one of my friends started an activity that piqued my interest. Deciding to take a more documented approach to life, she found the utility in keeping a mood tracker. I was well aware of journaling and the idea of keeping a diary, but this was my first exposure to anything like a mood tracker. Like clockwork, every evening she would open her journal to a page mapped with a grid and fill in the corresponding day’s square with a color representing her overall mood. This new initiative as an onlooker was inspiring, especially being backed by an individual so committed to consistency. I also quickly came to appreciate the aesthetic collage produced after a few weeks of tracking, with brighter colors assigned to more desirable feelings and vice versa. This palette choice made it easy to let the colors tell the story, allowing you to turn back the pages and re-live any chapter.
Despite being intrigued by the mood tracker, all this begin and ended as a fascination since I did not see the use for me personally. Convinced I knew myself well enough to just guess what color my days would be led me to overlook the mood tracker, little did I know that I was completely missing the point. Then, in the emergence of the pandemic I found myself plenty of extra time, and in an innocent “why not” manner decided to give the mood tracker a try and see if there really was anything to gain.
One Month Later
As quickly as it began, my month-long experiment came to an end leaving me with an aesthetically pleasing grid and a lot to share. The plan was to track my mood for all of May 2021 and reflect on my experience afterwards. Since I did not plan on doing it long term, I decided against the paper journal route and instead opted for a minimal app that did the same thing. Overall I am very happy with how it turned out, there is something about progress that you can see with your eyes, a tangible trail of past triumphs. Coming to this point, here are the 2 major lessons I learnt along the way:
- Human emotions are complex and dynamic, making them difficult to communicate
- Though swayed by our surroundings, there is a lot we can do to influence how we feel
Let’s dig in!
To begin with, the colors that populated the grid were vast with every emotion represented and the collage followed the pattern I was expecting to see based on what was going on. During exam season there was a lot of stress and fatigue. Then there would be occasional phenomenal days from good news I received, personal accomplishments or simply time spent with family or friends.
Through the rush of emotions depicted by my mood tracker, this practice allowed me to stop time once a day. These were the moments I took time to reflect, detached from the days flow and able to see upstream to where I was before arriving to where I am. Through reflecting, I quickly found out that the mood tracker is not just a tracker but a sensor of sorts. Similar to thermometers or sensors you find in car dashboard, it changes to reflect its environment. For example, if you decide to change something in your life the tracker will show how you perceived that change. Provided you are honest along the way, you can gauge which things in your life ultimately better you versus people or activities that promise more than they can give. The direct impacts are as clear as the colors you define, allowing you to analyze yourself better. As an aid in ensuring proper mental health, this mood tracker really helps capture our ever elusive emotions and keep them in check.
A week into the mood tracking I also noticed that it is not easy assigning one mood to summarize everything I felt in a full day. There is just no perfect way to render this boiling pot of mixing emotions down to a single word. In fact it became an exercise in of itself to pick one emotion, with extreme cases where I had internal debates picking apart my day’s events. In retrospect I don’t know whether to call it reflecting or just over thinking, but what I do know is that it left me more sure of myself. As time went on, my solution became the “gut” method, where I chose whichever mood came to mind first. Leaving me free to reflect but keeping my initial thought as final. Another nuance I encountered is the added dimension of intensity and duration feelings have, but to properly capture this is beyond the scope of the mood tracker. From all this it goes without saying that our emotions are truly beautiful in complexity.
The second big thing I came to appreciate was the various ways that we can hack our biology to tend towards better moods. While I think it is something we all know intrinsically, there are many less obvious ways to become happier beyond entertainment and selfcare activities.
From notes I kept alongside the tracker, I noticed that almost half of my good days were not all a direct result of good things. Embedded in these good days were rough moments of struggle and stress. The difference is that this hardship was not acting to pull me down but instead something I took upon myself to lift me towards a goal. It was because of these lesser moments that I was able to end the day feeling accomplished and most importantly, happy. I experienced this when I studied a concept until it finally clicked, allowing me to confidently finish the rest of my assignment. The initial despair of being lost in what I did not understand was met with hard work, and that determination broke the overcast ceiling that was keeping me down, making my day a whole lot brighter.
It feels contradictory, but happiness is not the exclusive by-product of playful and lighthearted activities. In fact, a more mature and nourishing feeling of contentment is often found only from doing things that really challenge us and push us to the edge. This is what I call the duality of the human experience, the puzzle of how we perceive what is good or bad versus the opposite realities they bring. Blindly following our bodily impulses, we can think discomfort is undesirable and has no place, but believing this idea is giving way to fallacy. Too far inland we are busy climbing our mountains, often missing to see the ripple effects our actions. Especially of the choices we make that inconvenience us today for the sake of tomorrow. How we see the future affects how we navigate our lives as the basis of our decision making along our journey to a soulful sheen. Bringing it full circle, how we see the future directly reflects in our mood.
The good news here is that we have the power to shape how we view the future. When we add a third dimension to the face value way we experience life and see behind the veil of reality, we can find courage and hope. Strength to endure any situation or strength to pursue your wildest dreams, it is all there. This mental grappling is what matures the mind and ultimately influences the future you see. Looking beyond what we see sounds vague and confusing, but we often do it without even knowing. This could be as easy as reading between the lines in the songs we listen to or recognizing themes and messages in the movies we watch and shows we binge. The world is full of this symbolic commentary and this powerful rhetoric provides motivation and insight on life. It is not the notes in that song or pixels on the screen that invoke an emotional response but the subconscious connection to your feelings and memories. The more real something is to you, the more power it has to influence you. The mood tracker does the first step for us, telling you and me what influences us the most. Now it is our turn to make the connection and keep the positive cycle going.
All in all, I recommend giving the mood tracker a try. See for yourself the intricacies of your emotional side and attempt steering it in your favor. Be honest and diligent, I think you will be surprised how it comes together for you. Then at the end of it all, pause and look back to appreciate all you have been through and how well equipped you are for what comes next!
~ A Source of Inspiration: Sonja