The Upside of Sadness

sad  manSadness has always been associated with undesirable, something we try to overcome, get beyond, and transition into happy. While happy is the state we all would like to be in, there now seems to be upsides to being in the state of sad.
WWWJoseph Forgas is a psychologist at the University of New South Wales, and just published the article, Don’t Worry, Be Sad! On the Cognitive, Motivational, and Interpersonal Benefits of Negative Mood. We are not talking about debilitating lengthy bouts of depression, just the mild moods most of us experience from day the day. Through his research he’s discovered that negative moods do have an upside, several  in fact. So, let’s look at them.

  • Ironically, there’s a motivational aspect to a sad mood. The odds are that more sad people persist in doing a difficult job, where happy people are more likely to abandon a challenging task.
  • There is a phenomenon in psychology called  the primacy effect. If you were presented with several traits of another person, you would remember and be impressed most with the first trait presented to you. For instance, if you were told that Sam was intelligent, sensitive, outgoing and opinionated, you would remember him as an intelligent person; if the list were read to you in reverse order, you would remember Sam as opinionated; and, a happy mood enhances that bias, however a negative mood removes it, exhibiting that sadness enhances judgment.
  • The dictator game is an economic  psychology study where there are two players. One player receives a dollar  amount, say $25, and that person can distribute it any way he or she wishes. If you propose giving the other person $5 and you keep the rest, and the other person says no, both of you receive nothing. It’s an emotional negotiating scenario to determine if a deal could be struck, and the psychological interplay it manifests. It was found that sad people made more generous offers being fairer, where happy people, again ironically, were more susceptible to their demanding ego.
  • Forgas believes that sad people are more accurate and perceptive in their observation of the world around them. Researchers found that sad people who witnessed an episode, held true to what they witnessed when they were subjected to a misleading line of questioning, and happy people were more vulnerable to being nudged into false memory.
  • Being skeptical is another trait of sad people, being less likely to be gullible in accepting myths with a more heightened awareness of insincere people.
  • In a very interesting experiment, Foras found that sad people were more resistant to stereotyping people. In a game called shoot don’t shoot, the object was to shoot bad guys holding guns, but to refrain from shooting when the people were holding a beverage or a cell phone, where half the targets wore Muslim type turbans. All tended to shoot more at the Muslim image, but that tendency was magnified with the happy people.

These are some of the surprising and fascinating results of Forgas’ research, typifying how mysterious the human psyche is.  Our goal of course, shouldn’t be sadness for these advantages, it’s simply good to know that in the normal course of life where our brain chemistry vacillates from one day to the next and life’s disappointments affect our moods, you can go with it as part of being human and abandon the notion that we always must feel happy all the time.
WWWIt also affords an opportunity to reflect and reevaluate our recent actions and if appropriate apply some beneficial changes, which wouldn’t occur if we were perpetually skipping and singing wearing a permanent Cheshire smile.