Sadness is not usually valued in our current culture. Self-help books promote the benefits of positive thinking, positive attitude, and positive behaviors, labeling sadness as a “problem emotion” that needs to be kept at bay or eliminated.
With the advent of fMRI imaging and the proliferation of brain research, scientists have begun to find out more about how sadness works in the brain and influences our thoughts and behavior.
Findings from my own research suggest that sadness can help people improve attention to external details, reduce judgmental bias, increase perseverance, and promote generosity. All of these findings build a case that sadness has some adaptive functions, and so should be accepted as an important component of our emotional repertoire.
Here are some of the ways sadness can be a beneficial emotion:
1. It can improve your memory. On rainy, unpleasant days that produce a blue mood, people have a much better recollection of details of objects. On bright, sunny days when people feel happy, their memory is far less accurate. It seems positive mood impairs, and negative mood improves attention and memory for incidental details in our environment.
2. It improves your judgment. People are more likely to make social misjudgments due to biases when they’re happy. But sad moods reduce common judgmental biases, such as attributing intentionality to others’ behavior while ignoring situational factors, and assuming that a person having some positive feature is likely to have others, such as kindness or intelligence.
3. It’s motivating. 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 other words, a sad mood can increase and happy mood can reduce perseverance with difficult tasks.
4. It might improve your interactions. Sad people are more focused on external cues and don’t rely solely on their first impressions to formulate the most appropriate communication strategy in uncertain social circumstances. Happy people, on the other hand, are more inclined to trust their first impressions.
5. It can make you nicer. People in sad moods are more concerned with fairness, and after taking longer to decide, give significantly more to others than do happy people. This suggests that they pay greater attention to the needs of others and are more attentive and thoughtful in making their decisions.
– Joseph Forgas and Steve Hickman
Read More: 5 Ways Sadness is Good for You
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