Sadness lasts longer than other emotions

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Robert Maurer

Sadness lasts longer than other emotions

There are times when sadness becomes the emotion that seems to prevail over everything. We can spend weeks, even months feeling its presence and, of course, its effects. Why does it persist so long?

Written and verified by the psychologist GetPersonalGrowth.

Last update: 15 November 2021

Why does sadness last longer than other emotions? Many of us will have had this feeling. When it appears, sadness settles in our mind as the worst of company.

It envelops us with its ash-colored veil that makes everything opaque, with its gray tones, inviting us to hide for days or weeks in the shell of our introspection.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry used to say that sadness is nothing more than a vibration and that when it resounds it reminds us that we are alive. Maybe so. It may be that there are few emotions that show us so clearly what existence is: having to deal with more than one disappointment, facing losses, upsets and the echo of what never comes back.

At the same time, there is one aspect we are aware of: it is not easy to turn the page, run away or try to put aside an unwelcome gift in a drawer. Sadness lasts much longer than emotions like surprise, cheerfulness, boredom, disgust, and even anger. However, this aspect has an explanation. 

Reasons why sadness lasts longer than other emotions

Sadness, like many other emotions, has a bad reputation. We don't know what to do when we live it; we would like to get rid of it as if it were the worst of our enemies. Moreover, often, if someone perceives our despondency and our heartbroken expression, they do not hesitate to repeat the usual, incorrect, sentence: “Come on, it's not worth staying like this. Life is made up of moments ".

In the collective imagination, we still associate this emotion with weakness and perhaps for this reason we continue to manage this emotional state in such a wrong way. Well, one aspect that Paul Ekman, pioneering psychologist in the study of emotions points out to us, is that our psychological universe would be more balanced if we knew better the psychophysiological states that populate it.

One aspect that Ekman himself explains in lyrics like Knowing Our Emotions, co-written with Daniel Goleman, is that sadness lasts longer than other emotions for a very specific fact: it is made up of many other emotions.

That is to say that it is an emotion that never comes by itself. Like when we uncork a bottle and discover that anger, anger and even fear are inside it.

Dissecting it, knowing “what it is made of” would help us to understand it much better, therefore to overcome it. However, additional factors explain why this emotional state is more persistent.

Sadness is proportionate to the event that causes it and to the way we interpret it

You have had an emotional relationship for five years for which you have given everything. You made a commitment to make things work, yet, in the end, you accepted it. The best thing is to leave your partner.

After the breakup and after a long time fighting for that love, you feel infinite sadness. And this state has been with you for months, or even years.

Now, another person in the same situation as you may take the breakup as a relief. This small example shows us a very simple aspect. Sadness lasts longer than other emotions because the triggers are more intense.

Because they are associated with facts that can be traumatic. Yet it all depends on how this experience is lived. In addition to how we filter these facts, adaptive strategies also come into play.

Some people have a more resilient approach to how they handle obstacles. Others, however, are helpless on fertile ground due to the persistence of that malaise.

The danger of brooding: when thoughts feed sadness

The University of Leuven conducted a study to better understand emotions. The aim was to define how many hours, on average, psychophysiological realities such as happiness, fear, shame last. Well, it turned out that happiness is nowhere near a lasting state as we think. 

  • Emotions such as fear, surprise, boredom or disgust were very brief. However, in the overview analyzed there was a state that was always perceived as lasting: sadness.
  • The researchers wanted to investigate the underlying causes of this evidence. What causes sadness to settle for weeks or months in our lives? The answer lies in our thought patterns.
  • Ruminating and constantly thinking about the triggering stimulus hinder its disappearance. Do not stop thinking about the event that caused our disappointment, our loss or suffering, not only contributes to the persistence of sadness, but intensifies it.
  • Finally, there is another aspect. In some cases we can experience this emotion without there being a specific trigger. However, our thinking is still that fuse that feeds despair, that raises the temperature of suffering and negativity.

Why does sadness last longer than other emotions? The resistance

One of the reasons why sadness lasts longer than other emotions lies in our resistance. Refusing to accept the emotion we feel hinders its management.

Health also means validating every emotion, understand that complex emotions are normal in abnormal situations. Understanding them, accepting them and knowing how to manage them gives us balance and allows us to better face both the days of quiet and those full of obstacles.

Therefore, it is time to reformulate many of the schemes that have been inculcated in us. It is not strong who bears and who can do everything. Courageous is the one who allows himself to fall to get up, cry to find relief, take refuge in his own introspection to make better decisions.

Resisting, demonstrating strength and acting as if life did not hurt us infects the wound, magnifies and prolongs the suffering. As Antonio Damasio points out, people are not rational beings who get excited, they are creatures made of emotions and reason. Being adept at understanding emotions enables us to lead a more fulfilling and healthier life.

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