Have you ever woken up in a foul mood and haven't quite understood why? Has it proceeded to ruin your day, and by extension, that of anyone within a 50-metre radius of you?
Yes (*says every person on the planet).
Homosapiens are a moody species, and as such, moving through bad moods is part of the human experience. Contrary to what society has led us to believe, however, they are normal and can bring positive benefits.
"Bad moods are mild, temporary negative feelings we all regularly experience in everyday life," Scientia Professor of Psychology Joseph Forgas told Huffpost Australia.
"They can be elicited by a variety of everyday negative situations, but typically, people are not consciously aware of the original source of their bad moods."
Forgas studies the cognitive processes of bad moods on interpersonal behaviours, and believes we need to re-assess how we perceive them in our lives.
But first, a brief history of sadness.
If we backtrack a few thousand years, cultivating bouts of sadness -- a form of "negative affect" -- was accepted and celebrated.
"Most of the great creations of Western art deal with the evocation of sadness -- in music, in literature. The development of Greek tragedies services the same purpose: to elicit negative affect, and so to train the audience in accepting inevitable adversity in their lives."
Today, things are a little different.
By expecting an unrelenting happiness, even normal, mild negative moods are seen as pathological, and the end result is that many people become depressed.Joseph Forgas
"As a result of powerful commercial pressures from advertising, marketing and self-help industry, we are continuously bombarded with messages claiming that permanent happiness should be ours for the asking," Forgas said.
"This is of course untrue, and can be very harmful. By expecting an unrelenting happiness, even normal, mild negative moods are seen as pathological, and the end result is that many people become depressed."
What are the benefits?
Here's where things get interesting. Scientists and researchers have only recently started to unpack sadness -- and how we respond to temporary bouts of it.
"Most negative emotions have a clear adaptive, evolutionary purpose. However, for a long time we did not know what the functions of sadness were," Forgas said.
"It is only in the last few years that psychological experiments began to demonstrate that mild, temporary moods operate like unconscious alarm signals."
This automatic signal promotes a more attentive and detailed thinking style, allowing its beholder to respond more effectively in challenging situations.
It is only when negative affect becomes intense and enduring that is becomes problematic and requires help.Joseph Forgas
"In our laboratory, we found that mild negative mood improved the accuracy of people's memories, reduced some judgmental biases, resulted in more effective communication and even made people attentive to the needs of others," Forgas said.
In this study, a bad mood caused by bad weather led to those afflicted to better remember the shop that they had just left. This one showed that a negative mood increased a person's skepticism and ability to detect deception, and this one saw a bad mood increase a person's perseverance when faced with a difficult mental task.
"So just like with all affective states, negative mood has a useful evolutionary purpose."
When do bad moods become something more?
Of course, there is an important point at which temporary bouts of sadness become permanent. According to Forgas, this comes down to having ill-functioning mechanisms in place to handle them.
"Normally, we are equipped to handle temporary bad moods, precisely by becoming more alert, cautious and focused. However, when these automatic mechanisms do not function properly, the negative affective state can become intense, and permanent," Forgas said.
"Such depressive states cannot be reversed by these automatic mechanisms.... It is only when negative affect becomes intense and enduring that is becomes problematic and requires help."
All of our fluctuating affective states exist for an evolutionary purpose and should be accepted.
While Forgas' research has focused on experiences of mild, temporary bad moods, his results shed light on the implications of our unrelenting promotion of enduring happiness as an achievable 'norm'.
"We would do much better by recognising that human beings evolved over many thousands of years to experience a wide range of emotions, many of them negative, and that all of our fluctuating affective states exist for an evolutionary purpose and should be accepted."
If feelings of sadness persist or if you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.
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