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The Virtues of Sadness November 3, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, Science.
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If you’re in a bad mood today, cheer up. At least your mood may be making you smarter.

According to this recent study:

Bad moods can actually be good for you, with an Australian study finding that being sad makes people less gullible, improves their ability to judge others and also boosts memory.

The study, authored by psychology professor Joseph Forgas at the University of New South Wales, showed that people in a negative mood were more critical of, and paid more attention to, their surroundings than happier people, who were more likely to believe anything they were told.

“Whereas positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, cooperation, and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking paying greater attention to the external world,” Forgas wrote.

“Our research suggests that sadness … promotes information processing strategies best suited to dealing with more demanding situations.” […]

The study also found that sad people were better at stating their case through written arguments, which Forgas said showed that a “mildly negative mood may actually promote a more concrete, accommodative and ultimately more successful communication style.”

But don’t cheer up too much; you will lose your edge.

At any rate, it looks like evidence for J.S. Mill’s claim—it is better to be an unhappy Socrates than a contented pig.

Furthermore, it might be that the causal arrow goes in the other direction–accurate assessments of reality make you sad and depressed.

Which might explain all those happy people watching Fox News.

 book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com



1. Venetia Manthos - November 7, 2009

Interesting article, but I think your use of the word pig is harsh.

2. Venetia Manthos - November 8, 2009

I wonder if this means that one must be in a sad mood at the moment, or just experiencing general dissatisfaction with life? I don’t like the idea of being less creative so I suppose it would be a good idea to have a good balance of both happy and sad feelings. I can recount situations where I felt pressure to be creative and experienced a lot of internal conflict while trying to produce a quick outcome. The article said something about mental shortcuts, so I wonder if people in positive moods have quicker minds?

3. Snowball - November 17, 2009

Can’t help but wonder who paid for the study?

4. Razvan - December 21, 2009

Who’s the author of the quoted study? The link is broken… I would like to read more on this as it is relevant to something that has been in my thoughts over the last week. Thanks!

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