We all feel sad at some point. Things aren’t going our way. We may regret something we did or didn’t say or do in the past. It’s OK to be sad. If you approach it correctly it may be a good thing, according to an article in Quartz. Psychologists studying feelings and behaviors say negative feelings exist because they play useful roles: they alert us to things we need to respond to.

  • Negative emotions including fear, anger, shame or disgust help us recognize, avoid and overcome threatening or dangerous situations.
  • Mild bad moods often work as automatic, unconscious alarm signals, promoting more attentive and detailed thinking.

Positive moods, on the other hand, normally are a signal of familiar and safe situations and our processing of information becomes less detailed and attentive.

Sadness has many purposes.

  • It helps us cope with common challenges and difficult situations.
  • It’s a social signal that tells others we’re disengaged and withdrawn which may trigger help by others.
  • Nostalgia for the past may give us useful information to guide future decisions.
  • Sadness can enhance empathy, compassion and a connectedness to others.
  • It can trigger artistic creativity.

If the sadness is intense and enduring it can be a serious and debilitating disorder. Those in this situation should get professional help.

According to recent psychological experiments feeling sad or in a bad mood has benefits,

  • It results in better memory of details and improves eyewitness memories by cutting down distractions like irrelevant, false or misleading information.
  • A mild bad mood reduces some biases and distortions in how people form impressions. Bad moods reduce gullibility and increase skepticism when people consider myths and rumors. People are better at spotting deception and those in a mild bad mood are less likely to rely on simplistic stereotypes.
  • In experiments where happy and sad participants performed a difficult mental task those in a bad mood tried harder and persevered more. They spent more time on the task, asked more questions and gave correct answers more often.
  • With a bad mood comes a more attentive and detailed thinking style which can improve communication. Those feeling sad use more effective, persuasive arguments to convince others, better understood ambiguous sentences and better communicate when talking.
  • Those in a mild bad mood pay more attention to social expectations and norms. They treated others less selfishly and more fairly.

Everyone wants to be happy, but having it forced upon us results in unachievable goals which will only lead to disappointment and even more sadness if not depression. Sadness or bad moods have up sides because they allow us to be better focused on a situation increases our ability to monitor and successfully respond to more demanding situations.

Plaintiffs don’t file lawsuits because good things happened. If you’re involved in litigation and trying to resolve a matter through negotiation or mediation you may have a client who’s very emotional about the cause of the lawsuit or it’s consequences. He or she may be sad at times. Given the benefits of sadness, if it’s mild and controlled, that improved ability to make better judgements, persevere, communicate and treat others fairly may make a little sadness a good thing.