Everyone has bad days. Maybe you get caught in traffic, or get reprimanded by your boss. Whatever it is, it’s likely to result in a bad mood that hangs around for the rest of the day.
However, those “bad” days or moments that you ruminate over aren’t objectively bad. From a different point of view, the events might be viewed as neutral or even good. It’s all in the way you choose to judge the moment and whether you decide if someone is to blame.
Imagine that you’re driving on the highway when suddenly a van weaves into your lane, forcing you to stomp on the brakes. You notice that a man is driving the vehicle. What is your automatic perception of the situation? What do you think of the driver and his motives?
If you’re like most of the population, you might assume that this man is weaving in and out of traffic because he’s careless, impatient and self-centred, only paying attention to his own needs. This is called a dispositional attribution, a judgement of cause based on an individual’s set personality traits. When you’re making this attribution, negative events that happen are the fault of others’ unchanging personalities.
Now imagine that same situation in a different light. The man driving is only cutting in and out because he’s trying to get to the hospital to see his first child being born. What’s your judgement of the situation now? Has it become clearer that the man’s actions were caused by the situation and not by the personality of the man? This is called situational attribution, where negative happenings are judged as a product of the situation, rather than a stable, personal fault.
Of course, some people can just be jerks at times. But more often than not, they’re acting upon alternate motivations that might not be visible to everyone. Another example would be waiting for someone to return a phone call. After waiting for hours, you may get frustrated with the person you need to contact. Yet if you knew that there was a possibility that they were dealing with something more pressing, like their child’s broken arm or a physical illness, you might have more patience and avoid unnecessary conflict.
Taking time to contemplate the situational and dispositional aspects of social events can greatly improve your mood as well as your outlook on life. People who have an optimistic outlook and attribute circumstances to situational factors are known to live longer, have lower rates of depression and stress, better coping skills and a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, those who are pessimistic and attribute causation to disposition will find that they’ll have less social support, a prolonged recovery time from stress and illness and feel less satisfied in their life. It’s all about perspective. The choice is yours to make.
image: Nicola (Creative Commons – BY)