Popular culture often stresses that we must remain positive and triumph over such “negative” emotions as sadness. Our universe is made of opposites – without one extreme we do not experience the opposite. We experience sadness as the opposite of happiness. What role does sadness play in our psyches?
“Sadness is a normal response to a wound that’s ultimately destined to heal.” Alex Lickerman M.D.
Studies by Joseph Paul Forgas, Ph.D, may lead to more understanding of sadness. He has learned that this emotion actually can improve memory and judgment. His experiments show that what we remember about the past can be influenced by subsequent misinformation. Sadness seems to reduce interference by later false information. It also improves accuracy of first impressions and judgments, as we experience a more detailed and attentive thinking style when we feel sad.
Dr. Forgas explains, “As humans evolved, moods came to be used as unconscious signals to inform people of the most appropriate way to process information. A positive mood signaled, ‘all is well, the situation is familiar’, while a negative mood signaled, ‘be alert and vigilant.’ Therefore a negative outlook promoted a more attentive and externally focused, information-processing style.”
The experience of melancholy can be a powerful motivator. When we feel sad, we are more persistent in finding ways to adapt to situations that trigger feelings of sadness.
When we feel happy we are less inclined to seek ways to change our mood and our reactions to life events, seeking alternative strategies.
Those experiencing sadness are also less inclined to jump to conclusions and rely on first impressions. They are more persuasive and pay greater attention to others’ needs.
Sadness can make us more appreciative of good memories and positive aspects of our lives. It connects us deeply with those around us who may be experiencing similar emotions. As Dr. Lickerman says, “Sadness may represent the bridge we must take to return to our baseline level of happiness.” Tears are indeed cathartic.
Humans are hard-wired to feel sadness. Healthy acceptance of this, as well as all other emotions, without judgment, allows us to live a well-balanced life.