Nobody likes to feel bad. Sadness saps our energy and motivation. Melancholy wrecks our health and invites disease. Misery leaves us — well, miserable. Yet many experts believe that these negative emotions have an upside, that they clarify our thinking and foster more deliberate and careful decision making. Some even say that sadness is a reality check on unwarranted optimism and self-regard.
That’s the so-called “sadder but wiser” theory. But is it true? Isn’t it equally as plausible that sadness and melancholy sabotage some kinds of thinking, and lead to questionable choices and judgments? A team of psychological scientists — Jennifer Lerner of Harvard and Ye Li and Elke Weber of Columbia — call this the “myopic misery” theory. Since sadness arises from a sense of loss, they reason, isn’t it possible that it triggers an unconscious need to replace what’s been lost, and that this need leads in turn to a sense of urgency and impatience — and thus to rushed decisions? They decided to pit the two competing theories against each other in the laboratory.
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