Anger, sadness, boredom, anxiety – emotions that feel bad can be useful
Remember the sadness that came with the last time you failed miserably at something? Or the last time you were so anxious about an upcoming event that you couldn’t concentrate for days?
These types of emotions are unpleasant to experience and can even feel overwhelming. People often try to avoid them, suppress them or ignore them. In fact, in psychology experiments, people will pay money to not feel many negative emotions. But recent research is revealing that emotions can be useful, and even negative emotions can bring benefits.
In myemotion science lab at Texas A&M University, we study how emotions like anger and boredom affect people, and we explore ways that these feelings can be beneficial. We share the results so people can learn how to use their emotions to build the lives they want.
Our studies and many others have shown that emotions aren’t uniformly good or bad for people. Instead, different emotions can result in better outcomes in particular types of situations. Emotions seem to function like a Swiss army knife – different emotional tools are helpful in specific situations.
Sadness can help you recover from a failure
Sadness occurs when people perceive that they’ve lost a goal or a desired outcome, and there’s nothing they can do to improve the situation. It could be getting creamed in a game or failing a class or work project, or it can be losing a relationship with a family member. Once evoked, sadness is associated with what psychologists call a deactivation state of doing little, without much behavior or physical arousal. Sadness also brings thinking that is more detailed and analytical. It makes you stop and think.
The benefit of the stopping and thinking that comes with sadness is that it helps people recover from failure. When you fail, that typically means the situation you’re in is not conducive to success. Instead of just charging ahead in this type of scenario, sadness prompts people to step back and evaluate what is happening.