The human emotional spectrum is very broad. There are emotions that we experience as positive, while others we feel as negative, but they all have an adaptive function. They serve for something.
Although we have always been told that it is better to be happy than sad, the truth is that sadness is also useful when it occurs in different situations.
Here let’s take a closer look at what sadness is for, probably the worst-viewed negative emotion of all.
What is sadness for in human beings?
Many of us have grown up with the idea that we should live happily 24/7, an idea that is still very much alive today. Traditionally, all negative emotions have been viewed as intrinsically bad., something to avoid at all costs, and the idea that we should always show our face has been promoted. This is easy to see by taking a look at social networks: parties, trips, large meals … there are many signs that in this artificial world such as the virtual one, everyone has perfectly happy lives.
But happiness is rare. We all want to feel it, and it is normal for it to be like that, but we cannot pretend to be happy all the time or think that our lives are terribly unhappy because we are not happy all the time. People have many emotions, each useful for different situations and all of them adaptive if shown in the right contexts, and sadness is no exception.
If we ask someone what sadness is for, it is sure that they would answer us with a resounding and categorical “not at all”. In part he is right. Sadness helps us to do nothing for a while. It makes us stop to think about what happened, what made us feel this way, how we could have avoided the unpleasant situation we just experienced and, if it was not possible to avoid it, at least it allows us to reflect and learn her.
To better understand what sadness is for, we must reflect on when it appears. This is an emotion that usually arises when there is a significant loss process. In this life we can lose many things, there being some that are irretrievable and that their disappearance will leave us a great void, especially the loss of a relationship. Losing someone, either because they have died or because they have left our side, is always something painful, something that brings us sadness.
Interestingly, the sadness that appears when we lose someone also serves to attract other people to give us comfort. This emotion has a relational function, serving so that other people accompany us in difficult moments when they see that we need emotional support. In difficult moments, people come together, trying to encourage those we see sad and showing them that they are not alone, that we want them to be better. His sadness has served to strengthen his interpersonal relationships.
The functions of sadness
Although with these first paragraphs we have been understanding a little what sadness is for, it is worth mentioning functions, all of them related both to the psychological well-being of those who feel it and their social interactions.
1. Lets work out the loss
On many occasions, sadness appears in a context of mourning for the loss of something or someone. This loss, if poorly managed, can have long-term emotional consequences.
Feeling sad after having lived, for example, the death of a family member allows us to elaborate on the loss, in the sense that it makes us stop and think about that person who is no longer by our side, remember good times and helping us to get the idea that he will not return, but that his memory will always be.
2. Facilitates introspection
Related to the previous point, sadness allows us to reflect on what has happened. That is, it facilitates introspection, analyzing the situation and getting some positive point from what has happened. It helps us grow as people after experiencing something that we have felt has taken away or deprived us of something.
Life is learning and emotions bring us many of them. It is difficult to find something in life that does not help us to grow and improve as people, with which, no matter how sad an event, we can always acquire a new experience from it.
3. Helps us feel better
It may sound counterintuitive to say that sadness helps us feel better, but we have all really experienced it in our flesh. In this life, as long as we have a healthy emotionality, there are ups and downs. After a fall there always comes a rise, an emotional increase that is most appreciated after feeling sad.
In addition, although it is true that being sad hurts us, it is also the emotion that allows us to release that pain. Once that negative emotion is released, we feel very calm, relieved, and with this it is as if we have recovered all the energy to be able to move on.
On the other hand, repressing sadness, despite the fact that many are trying to do, is a loss of well-being. With that repression, the only thing we achieve is to expend energy and feel a pain that we cannot avoid feeling, but that we are not releasing and that sooner or later will hurt us even more.
4. Encourage social support
Although each culture manages sadness differently, it is common to find in all of them collective rituals to help a person who has just had a negative experience just as important as the death of a loved one or a romantic breakup.
Sadness serves to unite the community, fostering social support. Whether we are a family member, friend or partner, when we see another person who shows signs of being sad it is inevitable that we approach them, try to give them comfort and want to encourage them. We want to show you that you have us for what you need.
Empathy is a capacity that makes sense especially when sadness appears. As social animals that human beings are, it would not make sense for us to have this ability so that later we would ignore the sadness of others or consider that it is a bad thing to feel it.
Evolution predisposes us to pay attention and accept sadness, not ignore it or repress it. Doing so distances us from others, whether we are the ones who are sad or a person we love is.
- Turner, J. (2007). The Evolution of Emotions in Humans: A Darwinian – Durkheimian Analysis. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior. 26. 1 – 33. 10.1111 / j.1468-5914.1996.tb00283.x.
- Ekman, P. (1993). Facial Expression and Emotion. American Psychologist, 48 (4): pp. 384-392.