The other day a client came to me and presented with, “I feel sad lately and I don’t know what to do about it.” She further explained that when it comes to sadness she feels uncomfortable and she thinks, “I don’t like this feeling which triggers a whole cascade of, ‘I don’t want to feel this, I shouldn’t feel this,’ and finally, ‘There’s something wrong with me.’” I’ve seen this over and over again so I want to shed some light on the usefulness of this emotion.
Let me first say that I am not talking about the unrelenting and persisting disorder of clinical depression. I am talking about the experience of melancholy.
Sadness is inescapable, as is joy and wonder. “It just is” as one of my clients likes to say. So, if within your emotions is a window into who you are, why don’t you treat sadness the same way? Why don’t you sit with your sadness, and see what may be there to be learned or discovered? If you know a little about me or have worked with me, you can sense that I am pointing in the direction of being mindful about your feelings. This means being present and awake to your sadness, with compassion and non-judgment. This may yield powerful insights, and may deepen your compassion toward yourself and others.
To shine a light on some of the ways sadness is good for you, I’d like to share the findings from a study by Joseph Fogras of the University of New South Wales.
- 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.
- It improves your judgment: People are more likely to make social misjudgements due to biases when they’re happy. But sad moods reduce common judgmental biases, such as attributing intentionality to others’ behaviour while ignoring situational factors, and assuming that a person having some positive feature – such as a handsome face – is likely to have others, such as kindness or intelligence.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
I’ll bet you didn’t think of that last time you were sad?! So once in a while, when you feel sad, allow yourself to just be sad. Take some time out, go for a walk, listen to some blues, or look through old photo albums. Just acknowledge your sadness, give it some space, and let it pass through, appreciating that it’s a good and necessary part of being human 🙂