Is there such as thing as TOO much happiness or joy?

In a study published in the June 2013 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, researcher, Joseph Forgas and his colleagues make a convincing case for the benefit of feeling sad, or having a brief bout of depressed mood. No, they are not saying being clinically depressed is a good thing, but their research indicates that a bad mood can bring about greater attention to details, more accurate recall in some situations, and a greater sense of fairness with others. As Forgas says, “Negative feelings are so common and widespread that they must have adaptive functions.”

On the other hand, Forgas and his group recognize that happy and joyous experiences and feelings serve to reinforce something that is pleasing in your life. Maybe you’ll survive longer and pass on more of your genes if you do what brings you happiness more often. Yet, seeing the world more realistically if somewhat negatively may have its survival value as well.

There is strong evidence that people in a depressed mood have a more objective and realistic view of the world than do people high on optimism and feeling bright and cheery. The case for the benefits of occasional down or negative moods has a fair amount of research support. People who are feeling sad and depressed often have a more accurate sense of time, Professor Diana Kornbrot, Research Professor of Mathematical Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, said: "The results of our study found that depressed people were accurate when estimating time whereas non-depressed peoples' estimations were too high. This may be because mildly-depressed people focus their attention on time and less on external influences, and therefore have clarity of thought—a phenomenon known as 'depressive realism'."

Research has also shown that as University of California, Riverside psychologist, Sonja Lyubomirsky has said, “Transient negative moods are absolutely beneficial when orientation to detail is warranted.” It seems that people in a negative or gloomy mood may pay closer attention to the details of their everyday experiences and in that way have a more accurate sense of what is happening.

 As with most things in life, too much of even a good thing can have a downside. But this is not to say that being a brief, sad or depressed moods like those mentioned by Forgas, Lyubomirsky, and Kornbrot are not with their downside as well. Being sad or mildly depressed can cause people to become more impatient and making poor decisions too. And of course, if we’re always feeling happy and joyous, human nature shows that we soon become habituated to those feelings and they gradually become less appreciated, less joyous. The contrast between our good moods and our bad moods seems to be necessary so that we can appreciate the good ones and perhaps occasionally by taking off the rose colored glasses and seeing the world around us through a clear lens we gain a perspective that helps us see time, people, and circumstances more realistically.

All things considered, I’d still prefer to feel happy most often.

About the Author

Peter Lambrou, Ph.D.

Peter Lambrou, Ph.D., is the author of five books, including Code to Joy: The 4-Steps to Unlocking Your Natural State of Happiness.

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