The Transformative Power of Sharing Mood

June 6, 2011

This is the intimate story of the last 6 months of my life, and how it changed for the better by sharing my mood. For some reason, writing publicly about mood feels much more vulnerable than other kinds of data. Maybe it’s because emotions get more to the core of our beings than weight or steps counted.

But several people at the QS conference found it helpful and interesting to hear what I’ve been doing, so I feel encouraged to write this in case it inspires or motivates someone else.

It all started on November 28, 2010, when I watched and blogged Jon Cousins’ excellent video about Moodscope. I joined Moodscope immediately, and for the next twenty-seven days, calculated my mood according to their algorithm. It made the invisible visible for me:

I had several insights from this experience:

1. My mood fluctuates much more than I realized! The highest point of 98%, on December 13, was after I had just walked part of the Honolulu marathon and celebrated seventeen years of togetherness with my sweetie. The lowest point of 13%, only three days later, I annotated as “jittery, lonely, sad, overwhelmed by work/family demands.”

2. Sharing with friends didn’t seem to have the stabilizing effect for me that it did for Jon. I started sharing this graph with two friends on December 4, but the ups and downs still happened.

3. Measuring mood needs more than one data point per day. I recorded these moods every day after my morning walk, which would be around 9-10 am, but I often found myself feeling very different as the day went on.

4. Tracking mood improves resilience. Once I saw the pattern of my mood going up and down so much, I started having a sense on down days that all I had to do was wait and my mood would go back up. So the down days didn’t seem as dark as they used to.

Later in December, one of the friends I had been sharing with decided to track mood as well, but using free-form text in Google Calendar. He invited me to join the calendar, so it was a private space where we could share mood events and insights. We soon started posting multiple times a day, and I found it very helpful to have a text field where I could post as much or as little description as I felt inclined to write.

Here’s a blurred out picture of my calendar from last week – sorry, no details!

The different colors are for individual calendars I share with different people, as well as a color reserved for work tasks, one for family schedule, etc. Here are some insights I have from sharing mood on the calendar:

1. After about a month of sharing mood every day, our moods started roughly mirroring each other. So when I would be having a hard day, he would too, and when he was calm and happy, so was I. Mood contagion is a known phenomenon that has been explored by Christakis and Fowler, among others.

2. Sharing mood tracking improves resilience even more. Mood dips have not been as deep or lasted as long since we started sharing. I think this happens because when one of us sees the other one sliding, we can jump in with a reassuring word to ease the fall.

3. Emotions form strong friendships. After 6 months of tracking mood together every day (I post 1 to 7 times per day, with an average of 3 posts per day), we are best friends. It has also gone beyond sharing just mood to sharing general insights about life experiences, so for me it is a kind of deep, healing therapy.

4. Sharing brings reminders and accountability. If I’ve gotten myself worked up about something, or forgotten to take good enough care of myself, it will show up in the calendar. Having someone else looking at, and often commenting on, my thoughts and emotions every day reminds me of who I am and how I want to live.

My life has been amazingly transformed by sharing mood very intensely with one friend, and it all goes back to Jon’s video last November. Just another reason why I’m such a passionate advocate for QS!

Ending note: Margie Morris of Intel ran a fantastic session on mood tracking at the QS conference, and was inspired by my story to propose a study on mood sharing – stay tuned for details!

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