The ability to feel emotions is one of the most beautiful things about the human experience.
And, just as happiness and good moods are welcomed, it’s also ok to be mad, sad, or in a bad mood without any real explanation as to why.
Though, despite mood swings being a side effect of being human, it seems medical professionals are chomping at the bit to diagnose such feelings as symptoms of a bigger underlying psychological disorder.
In some cases, medical intervention IS necessary to allow the affected to live a normal life. But, the truth is, most of us are just experiencing human emotions as they were intended to be experienced.
And it’s OK.
Just as good moods and happiness allow us to experience the best of what life has to offer, bad moods and sadness are equally important, often times serving as coping mechanisms to help us work through everyday challenges and evolve.
Short bouts of moodiness and sadness have been present throughout history, and have been the driving force behind some of the greatest achievements in mankind.
Greek tragedies exposed and trained audiences to accept and deal with inevitable misfortune as a normal part of human life. Shakespeare’s tragedies are classics because they echo this theme. And the works of many great artists such as Beethoven and Chopin in music, or Chekhov and Ibsen in literature explore the landscape of sadness, a theme long recognised as instructive and valuable.
Ancient philosophers have also believed accepting bad moods an essential piece to living a full life. Even hedonist philosophers like Epicurus recognised that living a well-rounded life meant exercising wise judgement, restraint, self-control and accepting inevitable adversity.
SADNESS: THE PURPOSE
Psychologists have long studied the evolution of human feelings and behaviours, and have recognized that affective states (psycho-physiological constructs) play an important role in our lives: they alert us to states of the world we need to respond to.
The range of human emotions runs the gamut and includes many more negative than positive feelings. Negative emotions such as fear, anger, shame or disgust are helpful because they help us recognise, avoid and overcome threatening or dangerous situations.
But, what is the purpose of sadness?
In rare cases of intense and enduring sadness, it is possible that the affected suffers from depression, a disorder ranging in severity from mild to debilitating, often requiring medical treatment.
However, most of us experience mild, temporary bad moods that serve an important and useful adaptive purpose by helping us to cope with everyday challenges and difficult situations.
- ACT AS SOCIAL SIGNALS: Sadness / bad moods act as social signals that communicate disengagement and provide a protective cover. When we appear sad or in a bad mood, people often are concerned and are inclined to help.
- GUIDE FUTURE DECISION MAKING: Some negative moods, such as melancholia and nostalgia (a longing for the past) may even provide comfort, calling on past information to help motivate and guide future plans.
- STIMULATE CREATIVITY: Sadness has been found to enhance empathy, compassion, connectedness and moral and aesthetic sensibility — thus serving as a catalyst for artistic creativity.
- IMPROVE FOCUS: Recent studies show that negative moods act as unconscious alarm signals, promoting a more attentive and detailed thinking style. In other words, bad moods help us to be more attentive and focused in difficult situations. In contrast, positive mood (like feeling happy) typically serves as a signal indicating familiar and safe situations and results in a less detailed and attentive processing style.
SADNESS: PSYCHOLOGICAL BENEFITS
Psychologists have demonstrated the psychological benefits of sadness by manipulating people’s moods with imagery (happy or sad films, for example), then measuring changes in performance in various cognitive and behavioural tasks.
They’ve concluded that being in a bad mood or feeling sad produces a number of benefits including:
- In one study, a weather induced bad mood resulted in people recalling details of a shop they just left more easily than their happy counterparts.
- Similarly, it has been found that a bad mood can also improve eyewitness memories by reducing the effects of various distractions, like irrelevant, false or misleading information.
- A mild bad mood reduces some biases and distortions in how people form impressions. For instance, slightly sad judges formed more accurate and reliable impressions about others because they processed details more effectively.
- It has also been found that bad moods can reduce gullibility, prompt increased scepticism when evaluating rumours, and improve people’s ability to accurately detect deception.
- Studies have concluded that when happy and sad participants are asked to perform difficult mental tasks, those in bad moods tend to exert more effort and persevere more often.
- Moreover, participants in bad moods spent more time on the task, attempted more questions, and produced more correct answers.
- Researchers have found that the attentiveness and detailed thinking promoted by a bad mood can help improve communication.
- Participants that indicated they were in a sad mood were found to use more effective persuasive arguments, and better understood ambiguous sentences.
SADNESS: COUNTERACTING HAPPINESS
Life would be much easier if it were all sunshine and rainbows, but it’s not. So why pretend?
Denying the virtues of sadness doesn’t equate to happiness. Don’t lose your identity on the self-defeating unrelenting pursuit of happiness.
Allow yourself to FEEL and EMBRACE emotions – both good and bad – as this is the only way to find your true self.
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