You Feel What You Speak: How Your Words Determine Your Mood
I was on the phone with someone last night who was having a rather unfortunate day. The more they spoke about the struggles they faced, the more I could hear the anger and despair build in their voice, which was heartbreaking to me. I listened while they told the story of how difficult their day had been. As they listed all the things that went wrong, I told them how sorry I was. Then, even though I knew I’d probably anger them further, I took a risk and asked them a question I’d been practicing on myself every time I felt negative about life.
"Can you think of one—just one—thing, even if it’s tiny, that you’re grateful for right now?"
While at first, I imagined them wanting to hit me through the phone, I encouraged them to stop what they were doing and legitimately think about it for a moment. After a long pause, they came up with an answer, one which surprised me and made me laugh out loud: “My socks,” they said.
“I bought some new socks today, and I really like them. They make me happy.”
For some reason, I was overjoyed at this response. Socks! Something as trivial and often unconsidered as a pair of socks instigated joy! They then went on to tell me all the different kinds of socks they bought that day—the colors and patterns—and rejoiced at how soft and snugly they were. Before I knew it, we were both laughing about how incredible a great pair of socks is, and all the turmoil and rage of the beginning of our conversation was long forgotten. Both of us hung up with happiness in our voices and contentment for the night to come.
This proved to me that the small truth I’d been memorizing in my own life had value and could genuinely help others, too: you feel what you speak.
Admittedly, I was a pretty negative person up until these last few months. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was cynical, but I was often fearful of the unknown and that led to a negative outlook on life. I also have the tendency to ruminate—to think on things from every angle repeatedly—until I upset myself. I think it largely stems from my introverted nature and love of books. I remember falling into the fictional worlds of my favorite novels when I was a kid and having quite a hard time pulling myself out of them to reenter the real world again. I obsessed over the fates of the characters and thought of every way I could rewrite their endings.
I made a habit of being negative about real life because it was never what I wanted it to be; it was never like the stories in my books. When I spoke to those around me, this negativity would sliver out, and for the majority of my life, I never saw anything wrong with that. Everyone complains. Everyone wishes their life was different in some way. I didn’t notice how it affected my mood. I thought vocalizing these feelings was better than keeping them inside, and everyone around me seemed to speak just as negatively. It almost felt like a way to forge connections with people: What do you hurt about that I hurt about, too? Let’s commiserate over it together.
When it came to the heartbreaks I’ve experienced in my life, new floodgates opened, and I was doubly motivated to release those feelings and be negative. In the beginning, it was healthy and exactly what I needed to be doing in order to not bury that pain in my subconscious and hide from the truth. But as time wore on, I began to listen to myself when I spoke to other people. I suddenly grew more and more aware of this lightening bolt surge in my chest to talk about my past disappointments and pain. It was addictive and seemingly uncontrollable. It became something that bonded me to other people who’d experienced similar trials, and I found myself talking about it so mindlessly that it was as if that darkness was sitting on my tongue; it came out memorized and stale, as if even my lips were tired of forming those words.
But the one thing I noticed more than all of this was how quickly my mood shifted the minute I started talking about it. No matter how lovely my day had been, no matter how happy I was moments before, the second I spoke that pain again, I was plunged into a pensive melancholy and stayed that way the rest of the day. I know, from speaking to friends about this, that I’m not alone in these habits. So few of us recognize that we have control over how we feel, and most of the time, if we just review all the things we spoke about that day and in what manner we expressed them to others, the root of our problem is evident. It sounds pretty simple, but it’s alarmingly profound when put into practice:
Speak darkness and you will feel darkness. Speak light and you will feel light.
Christian author and minister Joyce Meyer’s book Living Beyond Your Feelings has greatly helped me address this. She writes, “Millions of people live miserable and unfruitful lives because they are deceived. They believe they are merely victims of whatever comes their way. If they wake up feeling depressed, they offer no resistance, but erroneously assume that they must behave the way they feel.”
This hit home for me because I’ve woken up on so many instances, most often after having a bad dream, in a terrible mood. This first thing I typically do is call my mom and tell her about my nightmare and how hard the rest of the day is likely going to be since it’s cast such a dark cloud over my mind. Instead of speaking light, I speak darkness, and so let it reign.
I’ve heard from others how typical this is for them, too. I thought I had no control over it; this day was just fated to be a bad day for me. Just like when someone cuts you off on the freeway or spills their coffee on you in the street and ruins your shirt, it tends to sour your mood for several hours if not the remainder of your day and you tell everyone at work about it. In these situations, you don’t think to yourself in the moment: This upsets me, but I can control it. I won’t let this destroy my mood. I’m going to list, out loud, all the things I love about today.
No one does that. But what if you tried? What if you trained yourself to silence negative thoughts and speak positive ones, even if your mood doesn’t match up? Trust me when I say your mood will follow. It’ll snap into line the more you counteract it with your words.
Joyce Meyer concludes her argument about this with a parable I found so wonderful I read it several times. I hope you’ll do the same and find something to be joyful about today and speak it. You’ll be amazed at how much power you have over your emotions, and therefore your life.
A little boy was overheard talking to himself as he strutted through the backyard, wearing his baseball cap and tottering a ball and bat: “I’m the greatest hitter in the world,” he announced. Then he tossed the ball in to the air, swung at it, and missed. “Strike one!” he yelled. Undaunted, he picked up the ball and said again, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!” He tossed the ball into the air. When it came down he swung again and missed. “Strike two!” he cried. The boy then paused a moment to examine his bat and ball carefully. He spit on his hands and rubbed them together. He straightened his cap and said once more, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!” Again, he tossed the ball up into the air and swung at it. He missed. “Strike three! Wow!” he exclaimed.
“I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!”