Few would argue that feeling “blue” is of much, if any, benefit to our welfare – many studies in the past had emphasized the importance of positive emotional states not only for robust mental health, but also for physical well-being. That being said, not everyone experiences “dark” moods the same way – the more value and possibly even meaning we can find in them, the less sway they will have on our overall fitness.
In a new study, published in the journal Emotion, Gloria Luong and her colleagues interviewed 365 German participants about their attitudes towards negative and positive emotions, physical health and mental well-being.
Next, the researchers monitored the participants’ mood states by prompting them to indicate how good or bad they were feeling at the time via their cell phones. This was done up to nine times per day over a period of 3 weeks.
Just as predicted, those who exhibited negative attitudes toward bad mood experienced them more often, and had poorer mental and physical health in both the short and long term, as indicated by the number of health complaints. Conversely, in those participants who did not see their negative moods as a bad thing, these links were mostly reduced, or in some cases even absent completely.
While some of this could potentially be explained by differences in the way people from disparate cultures appraise negative mood (for instance, some cultures are wary of too much happiness altogether), Luong’s team is of a different opinion. According to them, recognising the value and meaning of negative moods and emotions might help prevent them from taking such an adverse toll, possibly by “dampening the magnitude and/or duration of the concomitant physiological arousal and psychological distress associated with negative affect”.
Notes of caution aside, these findings raise the empowering possibility that negative feelings needn’t be seen as something to be avoided, and could even work in our favour. After all, past research has already indicated that happiness campaigns could actually makes us feel worse.
If this effect can be replicated in future research, it may pave the way for mental health interventions based on this principle of seeing the positive side of bad moods.