If we always listened to marketers and self-improvement industries happiness would always be ours for the taking. But contrary to the often peddled notion that sadness and bad moods are some disorder, science has shown that these two emotions play an important role in our ordinary lives.
Homo sapiens is known to be a naturally moody species. This probably explains why, despite enjoying unprecedented levels of material wealth, happiness and self-satisfaction have remained a mirage for decades – at least in Western society.
It’s high time we came to grips with bad moods in our lives, and accept them as a normal part of the human experience. No matter how much society devalues or ignores these kind feelings, there’s no denying their usefulness in helping us cope with day to day challenges and situations.
The history of sadness – how did it all start?
Historically, being sad or moody for short periods of time – referred to as mild dysphoria – was accepted as a natural part of everyday life. In fact, the Greek tragedies were meant to teach audiences that misfortunes are inevitable in life. Many great artists and writers echo this theme in their works – from Shakespeare’s tragedies to Beethoven’s music, the message is the same: sadness has invaluable meaning in human life.
Ancient philosophers shared the same view. To live a full life you had to accept that bad mood are a key component of life. Stoics and even hedonists agreed that it’s important to teach oneself how to anticipate misfortunes like loss or injustice, and learn to accept them.
Sadness is beneficial
Psychologists maintain that our moods and emotions are useful for alerting us about what’s going on in the world around us, and how we should respond. The fact that there are more negative than positive feelings within the range of human emotions tells us that we can only ignore them at our peril.
Emotions like anger, fear, shame or repulsion help us recognise and deal with situations that are dangerous or threatening to us; only then can we adapt and learn to cope with these situations. Recent scientific experiments have shown that mild moodiness can promote our level of sharpness and attention to detail. Happiness, in contrast, makes us feel safe and may lead to complacency. That said, bad moods can become serious and debilitating if they prevail for too long.
When we’re sad our sense of compassion, empathy, moral and aesthetic sensibilities are heightened, to the point that sadness has even been credited with bringing out artistic creativity.
Other benefits that have been credited to dark moods include:
• Sharper memory
• Higher motivation
• Better sense of judgment and fairness
• Improved communication
Setting ourselves up for a fall
The bottom line is when happiness is unrealistically exalted we run the risk of setting an unachievable goal for ourselves. In fact, we could very well end up in the same predicament we’re trying to avoid when our search for this elusive goal ends up in disappointment.