The Benefits of Sadness

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Our ability to feel sadness may not always be our favorite thing but being able to be sad is important for our emotional and psychological well-being.

Memory Improvement – Our memories are by no means unalterable. They can be altered by subsequent misinformation. Negative moods, however, reduces the likelihood that false information obtained later will distort the original memory. Research continues to show that happiness has the potential to result in less focused and attentive processing which increases the likelihood of misleading information being incorporated into your memory. The research also shows that a negative mood has the potential to improve attention to detail thus resulting in better memory.

Appreciation and empathy – Sadness has the potential to give us appreciation for the good times in our lives. If we also remember how sadness feels we can use it to relate to others. In other words, sadness can make us more empathetic and compassionate to others who may be experiencing hard times.

Judgement Improvement – Throughout the day humans make social judgements and consciously and unconsciously read social cues in order to understand and predict thoughts and behaviors of others. Many times though these judgements can be wrong due to a number of reasons like taking shortcuts and biases. Sadness can actually help reduce common judgment biases like the fundamental attribution error, the halo effect, or the primacy effects. When it comes down to it the accuracy of impression formation judgements can be improved by a negative mood since it promotes a thinking style that is more detailed and attentive.

Signal the need for support – People respond to sadness. In other words, sadness can signal that we need support. The movie, Inside Out, is a good example of how sadness can elicit that support.

Motivation Improvement – Naturally, when we are happy we want to stay happy. Logical right? We may feel safe and content and not really feel the need to change much so not much effort is expended to changing things. When we are sad, however, it is like a little alarm saying we need to invest more effort and motivation to work with the situation. When in a negative mood there is the potential for more motivation and effort to change the situation than when in a happier mood. What this breaks down to is that a sadder mood has the potential to increase perseverance while a happier mood has the potential to reduce perseverance with difficult tasks.

Catharsis – Sadness is an emotion and therefore temporary, meaning at the emotion eventually passes. We move through sadness because we are in pain and generally after we move through sadness we tend to feel better.

Increase positive social interactions – Happiness may increase positive social interactions. When people are happy they tend to be more poised, assertive, and skillful communicators which means that they smile more and are socially perceived as more likable. Though not all situations require that type of communication. Some situations require a more cautious, less assertive, and more attentive communication style. In this case it might actually be helpful to be in a sad mood. In certain situations that may be uncertain and unpredictable there is a greater need to pay attention to what type of communication strategy is required in that situation to respond appropriately. When people are sad their attention is focused more on external cues and won’t rely solely on first impression which happy people tend to trust. Additionally, some studies have found that people who are sad are more persuasive, create effective and concrete arguments supporting their position, and are better at convincing others than are people who are in a more positive mood.

Even though sadness benefits us many times we don’t like feeling sad and would avoid being sad if it was possible. Though sadness is there for a reason and suppressing because we may not want to feel the pain tends to lead to greater pain in the future. The most effective way to move through sadness is to move though it, not around. Remember sadness is not a bad emotion rather it is an emotion that serves a purpose.

Glossary of Terms:

Fundamental Attribution Error – Also known as the correspondence bias or attribution effect, occurs when undue emphasis is placed on internal characteristics like personality at the cost of ignoring situational factors to explain someone else’s behavior.

Halo Effect – A cognitive bias where a person who has positive features is assumed by others to have other positive features such as kindness, intelligence, or kindness. Essentially, the overall impression impacts the evaluations a person’s specific traits.

Primacy Effects – Too much emphasis is placed on early information at the expense of and possible ignoring of later details.

Emotions – A complex psychological state that is comprised for three components: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioral or expressive response. (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2007) Emotions are generally short-lived, intense, and tend to have a definite and identifiable cause.

Resources and References:
Greater Good – Four Ways Sadness May Be Good for You
Psychology Today – The Benefits of Sadness
Positive Psychology News Daily – Positivity of Sadness
Scientific American – Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being
The New York Times – The Science of ‘Inside Out’
Harvard – Brain Science, Inside Out
About Health – What are Emotions?
Hockenbury, D. H. & Hockenbury, S. E. (2007). Discovering psychology. New York: Worth Publishers.

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