We have always been a very moody species. Happiness, disappointments, anger, sadness – all of these are quite natural states of mind. In today’s society, flooded with advertisements by the self-help industry, chasing happiness has become a cult, while neglecting the bad feelings.
It’s time to re-assess a purpose of bad moods in lives. We should recognize they are normal, and even a useful and adaptive part of being human, assisting us to cope with many bland situations and challenges. As painful as sadness is, it’s not all bad. Psychologists have discovered some surprising benefits of sadness that can help us make light of the emotion and its circumstances.
Sadness Improves Your Judgement
Humans constantly make social judgments, trying to read social cues in order to understand and predict others’ thoughts and behaviors. Unfortunately, these judgments can often be wrong, in part because of a number of shortcuts and biases that can lead us astray.
Experiments have shown that sad moods reduce judgmental biases, such as the fundamental attribution error (peoples’ tendency to attribute intentionality to others’ behavior while ignoring situational factors) and the halo effect, where judges tend to assume a person having some positive feature (such as a handsome face) is likely to have others, such as kindness or intelligence. It turns out that while we are in a bad mood we form more accurate and reliable impressions about others because of processing details more effectively.
Sadness Increases Your Motivation
In one experiment, participants were asked to perform a difficult mental task and those who were sad, they tried harder to resolve the questions. Participants who were happy spent less time, attempted fewer items, and scored fewer correct answers than participants in a bad mood.
When we feel happy, we naturally want to maintain that happy feeling. Happiness signals to us that we are in a safe, familiar situation and that little effort is needed to change anything. Sadness, on the other hand, operates like a mild alarm signal, triggering more effort and motivation to deal with a challenge in our environment.
Sadness Improves Your Memory
Psychologists have conducted experiments during rainy days, which caused a bad mood, to observe recollection of details of objects that participants had seen in a shop. The results showed that negative mood improves attention and memory for incidental details in our environment. Similar tests were conducted for testing the eyewitness memories, where people in a bad mood reduced the effects of various distractions.
These experiments consistently find that happiness can produce less focused and attentive processing and so increases the chances of misleading information being incorporated into memory, while a negative mood improves attention to detail and results in a better memory.
Sadness Improve Communications
Analyses showed that the sad mood produced more polite, elaborate, and hedging requests, whereas those in a happy mood used more direct and less polite strategies. Some other experiments have shown that people in a sad mood are also more persuasive, produce more effective and concrete arguments to support their position, and are better able to convince others than are people in a positive mood.
Of course, benefits of sadness have their limits. Although no one likes to be in a bad mood, sadness is there for a good reason. We should embrace all of our emotions, as each has an important role to play under the right circumstances.