There are a million and one articles out there offering ways to turn around a terrible day. I've written some of them myself, in fact. From counting your blessings to calling a friend, these posts offer plenty of tricks for improving your bad mood. But here's one you probably haven't heard before -- don't beat it, embrace it.
That's the message of new psychological research carried out in Germany and reported recently on the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog. The team behind the study set out to investigate the physical and psychological toll dark moods take on people, and whether how we view our moods affects how badly they impact us. To do this they used smartphones to check in with 365 study participants several times a day, building up a record of their moods over several weeks. They also conducted interviews and physiological tests to gauge their attitude towards their moods and overall health.
What they found is a little surprising -- your mood matters when it comes to your well-being but so does how you think about your mood.
What's a bad mood good for?
If you answer the question above with a resolute 'Absolutely nothing,' then this study suggests that your inevitable bad moods will take a significantly higher toll on your mental and physical health. The researchers "think recognising the value and meaning of negative moods and emotions probably helps prevent those dark mood states from taking such an adverse toll," reports BPS.
What could the value of negative moods possibly be? BPS offers a few possibilities: "Anger can sometimes be empowering" while "sadness can be poignant and bring us closer to one another," for example.
This is just one study, of course (and German attitudes towards negative emotions may turn out to differ from those of other cultures, BPS points out), but the findings actually echo other research in interesting ways. Studies out of Stanford, for instance, have shown that stress is less bad for us if we view it as a normal and essentially healthy part of life -- a way for our bodies to get ready for a challenge. Psychologists even sometimes recommend "constructive wallowing" after a failure to give ourselves a chance to better understand our sadness and fear and therefore cope with it constructively going forward.
Taken together with the German study these psychological insights suggest that we don't just have negative emotions to pointlessly torture us. Things like anger, stress, and sadness definitely don't feel nice but they may actually have a purpose (excepting, of course, in cases like clinical depression). Recognizing that might be healthier than just trying to instantly eliminate bad moods.
It might be premature to say there's a definite takeaway from this research, but it can't hurt to keep it in mind next time something has got you down. Maybe thinking about the purpose of your less-than-pleasant emotion might be a healthier response than immediately trying to banish it with distractions or other cheerful interventions.