How Sadness Can Be Good for You

A sad gentleman holding his forehead.

Despite the prevalence of happiness gurus and unmatched wealth, people are not happier today than they were decades ago. (Image: Photosvit via Dreamstime)

Negative emotions cause bad moods. Both negative emotions and sadness are natural human states. However, most people today strive to ignore these feelings. Most people want eternal happiness, but that’s not the right goal. Manipulative marketing and self-help gurus have made people believe that pursuing happiness should be the ultimate goal. But despite the prevalence of happiness gurus and unmatched wealth, people are not happier today than they were decades ago.

So how can negative feelings like anger, sadness, anxiety, or heartbreaks be good? And why should you accept negative emotions? This article will review the impact of self-denial and accepting the root causes of negative emotions on your well-being.

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Are negative emotions good?

Today, bad moods are almost treated like disorders. But it’s time to accept that negative emotions are essential to your life. Human emotions consist of many more negative moods — such as fear, anger, shame, or disgust — than positive ones. 

Human emotions consist of many more negative moods,such as sadness, than positive ones.
Human emotions consist of many more negative moods than positive ones. (Image: Oleg Chumakov via Dreamstime)

Recent research by the University of California, Berkeley, shows the impact of the new cult of happiness. The researchers found that forcing yourself to be happy when you are downtrodden takes a psychological toll on you. In short, you end up feeling bad about feeling bad, and the cycle of negative emotions continues.

This research concluded that: “Overall these results suggest that individuals who accept rather than judge their mental experiences may attain better psychological health, in part because acceptance helps them experience less negative emotions in response to stressors. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology).

Avoiding toxic positivity

Todd Kashdan, a professor of psychology, believes there is an upside to our dark side. He also argues that being happy all the time doesn’t work well as a strategy for living your life. 

In an interview, Kashdan said: “One problem is, there are so many things that affect our thoughts and emotions that we can’t control. Temperature. Hormones. Circadian rhythms. And here’s the big thing — we can’t control what other people do, only how we react to them.” (The Washington Post).

In recent years, many therapists and psychologists have reiterated Kashdan’s views about the downside of toxic positivity

Whitney Goodman, the author of Toxic Positivity: Keeping It Real in a World Obsessed with Being Happy, believes people should seek a value-based life instead of a happiness-based one. In her book, she says that accepting negative emotions makes it easier for people to deal with low moments better.

Another author, Anna Katherine Schaffner, believes that the multi-billion dollar self-help industry has diluted the key self-improvement message passed down through centuries. Past philosophers and religious leaders knew that suffering was part of life. So ancient wisdom advises people to accept negative emotions as they yearn for positive ones. 

The bottom line: Avoid the relentless pursuit of happiness, and you shall be content.

Content young woman wearing a dress and holding a fashionable scarf stands barefoot on some rocks at the edge of a lake.
The secret to contentment is to avoid the relentless pursuit of happiness. (Image: Intoit via Dreamstime)

Reasons to accept negative emotions

The psychological benefits of sadness have become evident thanks to several studies. Most therapists and psychologists have also noted that not pretending that everything is okay makes you feel better in the long run.

Some negative emotions, like sadness or nostalgia, may even be beneficial. These emotions sometimes work as unconscious alarms that make you more attentive. That way, they help you become more focused in difficult situations. In other words, negative emotions indicate things are not going well.

On the other hand, positive emotions indicate that things are going well. These feelings are mostly evoked in familiar and safe environments. So by pretending you are happy, you may ignore dangerous or harmful situations.

Also, mild bad moods are social signals that provide a protective cover. When you are sad, friends or family may notice that you are disengaged and offer help.

Depression and anxiety are severe and debilitating conditions that require psychological assistance. Remember, nobody is downplaying the effects of enduring and intense sadness. Mild sadness is acceptable, but when it continues for an extended period, seek help.

Avoiding the cult of happiness

By glorifying happiness and ignoring negative emotions, we set unattainable goals for ourselves. Ancient Greek sages and philosophers, from stoics to epicureans, knew the benefits of accepting negative emotions. Their Chinese counterparts — like Buddha, Laozi, and Confucius — also spoke about these ideas.

Temporary negative emotions have several benefits. They can improve memory, help you make accurate judgments, and improve communication and motivation. 

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