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Cures for Sadness, Part I: Ideas and People

Handling negative emotions

Stuck in sadness
In his classic book Emotional Intelligence, Dr. Daniel Goleman describes one of the most common responses to sadness: rumination. Something happens; we get sad; and then that sadness encourages us to sit and think the situation over, reliving it or elaborating on it or beating ourselves up. These kinds of rumination tend to keep the sadness going.

Being sad can actually be a helpful in some circumstances, as described in “The Benefits of Feeling Bad.” For instance, if I’m sad because I’ve done something unkind to a friend so that the friend is now upset with me, ruminating may help me understand where I went wrong and how I can handle things differently next time. It can also help me formulate an apology and convince my friend that I’m truly sorry.

In many situations, though, being stuck in sadness is simply painful. When this is the case, according to the research Goleman cites and much other research that has come out since he wrote the book, we have several options for finding our way out of sadness.

Thinking our way out
One of the most powerful means of getting out of any kind of negative emotion, a mainstay of cognitive therapies, is using idea repair (officially known as “cognitive restructuring”): see “All About Broken Ideas and Idea Repair.” With this approach we eavesdrop on our own thoughts, find out what it is we’re doing to make ourselves sadder, and change our thinking to relieve that pressure.

Socialization vs. sadness
Another method–one you’ve probably used on yourself or on a friend–is social time. According to research, says Goleman, sad or depressed people who spend time with people they enjoy very often experience a big boost in mood. The barrier here is that a sad or depressed person often avoids the company of others, and activities don’t sound as appealing when a person’s mood is low. This makes friends who are willing to drag you out to have fun when you’re down very valuable.

Without going into great detail, a few of the reasons social time improves mood are:

  • Moods tend to be contagious, so a single sad person in a group of happy people has a good chance of being influenced by the mood of the others.
  • A person who is out in a group is likely to make a greater effort not to act depressed, and acting out a mood is a good way of encouraging that mood. For instance, the act of smiling tends to make people happier even if the smile is completely fake.
  • In a group, broken ideas are more likely to be challenged and functional ideas more likely to be offered as replacements.

In further articles in this series, I’ll talk about other techniques for trumping sadness.

Photo by Beni Ishaque Luthor

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