Sadness is an emotion almost all human beings feel many times throughout their lives. It is often seen as a feeling we should do our best to avoid. We are inundated with self-help books, features on how to change our outlooks, “the power of positive thinking” and more. Furthermore, we are all far too accustomed to bottling up our sadness by “putting on a happy face.” But sometimes there are benefits to letting yourself feel sad.
Sadness is often defined as sorrow or regret, a reaction to an "unfortunate and regrettable" situation. Despite specific definitions, however, most people know that many different emotions -- or sub-emotions, if you prefer -- are classified as sadness, from heartbreak or the death of a loved one to guilt and frustration.
Most people experience many different types of sadness. Researchers have delved into the question of whether sadness is a single emotion or a catch-all word applied to many unique feelings. One study investigated potential differences in physiological patterns when people felt sadness for two different reasons: loss of someone and failure to achieve a goal. The study found that during the assigned task, subjects' physiological reactions were fairly similar, but afterward the former reason was more likely to provoke tears. Blood pressure also varied between the two subject groups.
As recently as 2014, experts purported there to be only four basic categories of human emotion: happiness, sadness, fear, and anger. However, more recently, a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested there might actually be up to 27. Additional emotions include surprise, contentment, disgust, and even relief. Psychologists generally agree that it is healthy to experience the full range of emotions, however they are categorized.
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Feeling sad can happen for many reasons. A person may have just gone through a divorce or lost a loved one; his children might have left for college or she could have had a fight with her partner. Depending on the person, some might feel sadness for arguably smaller things such as losing a favorite hat or forgetting a birthday. In most cases, people feel sad as a result of some type of human connection.
There are plenty of myths around sadness, such as the idea that showing sadness is a sign of weakness, or that you allow yourself to be sad, you will never be happy again. Neither of these is true, and misunderstanding what being sad means can be detrimental to health and self-worth if we try to suppress or hide this natural emotion.
Another widely believed myth about sadness is that it is not good for us to wallow in sadness. Wallowing means to "indulge in an unrestrained way," which in itself is not immediately a bad thing. Allowing sadness to completely overtake your life to the point where you think of nothing else and hide away for days or weeks may not be a healthy approach. However, spending a bit of extended time "wallowing" in sadness can be healthy, because it allows us to work through and deal with why we feel sad. Then, we can move on.
In the same way, happiness can cause us to make bad decisions, sadness can have the opposite effect. Joseph P. Forgas, a professor of psychology at the University of New South Wales, conducted several experiments on sadness. These experiments found that allowing ourselves to feel sadness can improve memory, and increase motivation, perseverance, and empathy.
Depression and sadness are not the same, and advice like "wallow in your sadness" could be detrimental to someone with depression. Unlike sadness, depression is a mood disorder. People with depression can experience long, intense periods of sadness. If you find yourself feeling sad more often than you think is healthy, do not hesitate to speak to a mental health professional.
Feeling sad now and then is healthy. However, people with depression or people who are experiencing longer periods of sadness, such as that caused by grief, might search for ways to stop feeling it. Although the factors that can relieve sadness are hugely individual, one of the following three options can help most people:
Experiencing sadness, like happiness or anger or fear, is part of what makes us human. Emotions are nothing of which to be ashamed. They are what connects us to other human beings who, while they may experience them in different ways, have those same emotions. Sadness can be healthy if you let yourself feel it, and knowing it is as vital a part of life as any other emotion can help you deal with any inadequacy you might feel.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.