photo: Joseph Jude on flickr

What do you do when you’re feeling crappy?

If you’re like me, you have a variety of techniques to feel better, some of which work and some of which don’t.

In the past, food – especially sugar – was my favorite quick-fix. Never mind that it made me feel worse afterwards, I convinced myself that the momentary high was worth it.

photo: Zawezome on flickr

When sugar outlived its usefulness, I turned to other, more reliable sources of solace:

Exercise. Meditation. Affirmations and affirmative prayer. These practices, when used consistently, are a lifeline – a powerful way to boost my mood. Not to mention my self-esteem and connection with the Divine.

But still.

There are moments/hours/days when these tried-and-true techniques fail to lift my spirits.

photo: Leland Francisco

A while back, I was in a pissy mood. And not just any old pissy mood. I was in a pissy mood for no good reason. In other words, I couldn’t hunt down the source of my negativity and smother it with positive vibes.

I had no idea why my knickers were in a twist.

This lack of someone or something to blame only made it worse. How was I supposed to feel better if my grumpiness had no known cause?!

I have a regular gratitude practice, and I often find that listing things I’m grateful for will brighten my mood. So I tried that. And it helped, a little.

But not enough.

photo: John Lambert Pearson on flickr

That particular night, I had a commitment. I was a teaching assistant in a class at the Center for Spiritual Living Santa Rosa, and I needed to be there to help with the class. This wasn’t a paid gig. It was an act of service.

I really didn’t want to go. Like, really, really didn’t want to.

But I’d made the commitment, so I dragged my grouchy self to class.

The minute I got there, I went to work. There were chairs to be put up, lesson plans to be reviewed, and handouts to be copied and collated. Before long, the students showed up and the class was on its way.

Halfway through class, I realized I was feeling better.

You know how you have a bad dream, and you’re getting chased by monsters wielding pick axes? Okay, maybe that’s not what happens in your bad dreams, but you know what I mean. You find yourself in a bind of some sort and you can’t get out.

photo: Alan Turkus on flickr

And then you wake up. And you realize that the pick-axe-wielding monsters were all in your imagination.

This was like that. My bad mood was like a nightmare. And being in service was what it took for me to wake up.

Indeed, I often find that the best way to feel better fast is to step outside my own little world and do something for someone else.

Believe me, I’m the last person in the world you’d expect to be making such a statement. For most of my life, I’ve been a serious disciple of the Lone Ranger School of life.

Actually, I was even more hard-core than the Lone Ranger. He had Tonto.

I just had me.

This was my old philosophy:

Why rely on others when I can do it myself? And why help others when there are others who can help instead?

But becoming part of a spiritual community changed me. And one of the best ways I’ve been changed is by understanding the joy of service.

Besides the whole Lone Ranger thing, “service” is a word that used to make me gag. It reminded me of fake-smiling, apron-wearing, platitude-spouting Do-Gooders.

God forbid I would become one of them.

But I discovered that service can be things I love: music, writing, speaking, learning. Service doesn’t have to be synonymous with suffering. Or apron-wearing. It can be synonymous with joy.

Here’s my theory. (Don’t forget: I’m Dr. Z! I always have a theory!)

Bad moods are usually a version of I-suck-itis. For whatever reason, we become convinced we’re no good, and it feels like nothing can change that.

But service reminds us that we have worth.

We can do something to help someone else. Be it a large act or a small one, we have value in the world.

photo: Fort Meade on flickr

So here’s my recommendation:

Find something you can do to serve others. If you’re already in service, Rock on with your bad self! If you’re not sure how you can help, make a list of potential ideas and commit to one of them. Or, if you’re still not sure what to do, talk it over with a friend. Maybe you’ll find something you can do together.

And if you don’t like the first thing you try, try something else! I guarantee that the world needs your particular brand of help.

Even if you don’t wear an apron!

photo: Mount Rainier NPS on flickr

What’s your favorite form of service? How has it enhanced your life?

 

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