Mood swings are perfectly normal, but almost everyone would prefer to feel happy all the time. The benefits of negative emotions are usually taken for granted, which makes happiness overrated. But too much of everything isn't good, and this includes always feeling upbeat.
The 2015 Disney animated film Inside Out highlighted the roles played by the five emotions — Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger — who reside in the mind of a preteen girl named Riley. Expectedly, the ever optimistic, upbeat and motivated Joy was the group's leader. In the end, however, it was Sadness who saved Riley from harm and peril.
The movie's message of appreciating the negative emotions is what psychologists have been talking about all along. Dr. Joseph Paul Forgas wrote about the surprising benefits of negative emotions and how these help people cope appropriately with the situation around them.
Negative emotions like sadness, fear, anger, shame or disgust enable people to recognize, avoid and overcome threatening or dangerous situations. These bad moods send alarm signals to the brain that prompt the subject to disengage or withdraw from the unpleasant situation.
According to Forgas, a bad mood makes a person more attentive and focused in difficult situations. He cited experiments wherein participants who were down emotionally performed better and were more motivated in mental tasks. Sometimes, desperation is the mother of invention. Solutions pop up during the most difficult times.
Psychologists have long realized that sadness is a trigger to artistic creativity. The greatest music and literature like the Greek Tragedies revolved around loss and despair. Hopeless romantics are drawn to melancholic themes of missed chances, lost connections and regrets.
Another benefit of sadness is that it attracts empathy, compassion and connectedness. Communities and neighborhoods come together for support during times of crisis. However, Forgas warned his readers to be wary of prolonged sadness which could turn to depression. A healthy existence, after all, requires the constant spinning of the mood cycle.