You ever get in such a garbage mood that you can see how admittedly garbage your mood is, but you still just want to revel in the garbage for a bit? That’s where I was yesterday. Thankfully, I’ve got some good news for those of us who occasionally want to wallow in our crabbiness. There are scientific benefits to being in a bad mood. That should also be reassuring information for anyone who’s ever felt bad or bummed, which is everyone reading this provided you are a human.
In a new piece for Quartz, psychology professor Joseph Paul Forgas writes about the psychological benefits to your bad moods and why allowing yourself to be bummed out is actually good for you. It should be noted now that these benefits are linked to the natural patterns in people’s moods. If you’re showing signs of depression or other serious mood disorders, that is something more severe and you should speak to your doctor. Just want to make clear that there is a difference between feeling sad and clinical depression.
As Forgas details, some studies have shown that everything from memory to judgement to communication can improve when people are in a worse mood. Bad moods can also help with motivation. Some research suggests we try harder and preserve more when we’re in a bad mood. Another study found that feeling in a mildly bad mood can lead to people treating others more fairly and less selfishly, as it causes them to pay more attention to social cues and norms. There is also evidence that suggests we rely less on stereotypes when we’re in a slightly negative mood. Being in a bad mood never sounded so good.
In perhaps the best named scientific study in recorded history, “Don’t Worry, Be Sad!” found evidence of these positive effects of having a negative affect. This study suggests the benefits to your bad mood have evolutionary roots. Basically, it’s possible our negative emotions are adaptive tools that can give our body cues to recognize and avoid situations that are dangerous or otherwise threatening to our wellbeing.
This all seems kind of counterintuitive to the way we think about emotions, especially negative ones. We’re culturally conditioned to associate ourselves more with our positive emotions. Happiness is so desired, countries compete to be ranked as the most happy place to live. Feeling good, even if you're faking it, is the goal.
Sadness and anger are often thought of as temporary phases of emotion more so than happiness. There are adages that imply sadness passes with time and advertisements that state we're not us when we're in a bad mood. However, as Forgas states, “By extolling happiness and denying the virtues of sadness, we set an unachievable goal for ourselves.” Forgas mentions the potential detrimental effects of constantly projecting happiness and ignoring sadness. Specifically, we could be reaching toward an unattainable goal while ignoring a part of us that is not only natural but necessary.
None of this is to say that being happy is bad or finding ways to improve your mood are for naught. Happiness is a necessary part to a full human experience, as are all our emotions. So, next time you’re feeling bummed: Don’t worry, be happy. Or be sad. Basically, we should all be free to be in our feelings a little bit more.