Bad moods can also boost memory, improve focus and stimulate creativity.
We all get them. Sometimes it’s just because we managed to get out of the wrong side bed, or because someone has ticked us off at work, or because your spouse has invited a deeply irritating friend round for the evening. It’s all relative of course, but the good news is that your misery can actually improve your health.
It has long been recognised that fear, anger, shame and disgust are beneficial emotions because they help us recognise, avoid and overcome threatening or dangerous situations. But according to researchers at the University of New South Wales, being in a terrible mood is good for you because it can work as an alarm signal for the body that promotes more attentive and focused thought processing in difficult situations. More, bad moods can help with problem solving and improve memory.
People who participated in the study where able to remember details of a shop they had just left more clearly if they were in a bad mood than if they had been in a happier state of mind. The researchers also found that our bias and judgements were less clouded and insecure when we’re cross. That’s also good news because if someone is trying to feed you a line, you’ll be less likely to believe it.
In addition, people who are angry try harder to answer questions correctly in tests. They are also better at persuading others into having a certain opinion.
Sadness and depression has long been seen as an extension of artistic creativity – think Van Gogh, Beethoven, Tony Hancock. Musicians often sing about break-ups and difficult life experiences.
The original purpose of the study was to dispel the myth that wealth and happiness are the two easiest ways to achieve life satisfaction. However, contrary to popular belief, being upbeat all the time won’t necessarily bestow long term happiness. In fact focusing solely on happiness and denying the virtues of sadness is an unachievable goal and creates more disappointment and even depression.
It may seem contradictory, but more fully accepting and experiencing negative emotions can make you happier and empower you to change your life. The message that we should always feel good and try not to feel bad ends up being toxic and doesn’t work well as a strategy for getting through life.
There are so many things that affect our thoughts and emotions, such as the weather, the seasons, politics, we can’t control. Neither can we control the behaviour of others – only how we react to them.
Relying only on positive emotions as an indicator that our lives are going well, or using positive emotions as a goal is also something that is beyond our control.
When it comes to negative emotions, the more we try not to think about something, the more we actually think about it. Just for a moment, try not to think of a marauding band of monkeys crawling over you house. And there you are – the image leaps straight into your head.
We need to improve our ability to recognise exactly what we’re feeling in the moment. Anger motivates us to get rid of barriers. If you notice you feel sad, it indicates things aren’t going as well as you had hoped. It could mean your expectations are too high. Hopefully, it might motivate you to face up to the real world by collating information and discover how to deal with reality in a more effective way.
Our emotions help us make better and stronger efforts toward the things we care about. Forget what ‘happiness’ experts say – their goal in life is to sell you more books. Happier emotions are not the goal. We should think of emotions as tools rather than goals.
If we take the goal of happiness out of the equation, the irony is that we will actually feel happier. Happiness is the obscure object of our desire – complete happiness is rarely attainable, and in any event, happiness is very much like love – it’s only when you stop searching for it that you actually find it.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2017. All rights reserved.