Sadness is the negative and depressive emotion that accompanies a perceived loss.1 Sadness relates to events that have happened; it always refers to the past. If a person fears a loss that has not happened, the emotion is anxiety.2 On a perceptual level, the effects of a loss are virtually indistinguishable from that of a failure.
Sadness makes thoughts slow while refocusing the mind on the cause of the loss.3 It forces the mind to pay attention to the issues involved. Specifically, resulting in elaboration around the loss to help identify what caused it and the subsequent emotional pain, so similar situations in the future can be navigated with less loss and more success.4 Sadness is motivtion for adaptation.
Sad thoughts are linked together in associative networks within the brain. Other memories that share the same emotional tone have a tendency to be recalled for an elaborative comparison. This is termed mood-congruence, and it’s often unnerving.5 People may find themselves remembering many sad experiences that bubble up and influence how they look upon present issues. A sad or depressive turn of events affects other everyday experiences. Instinctively, people prepare for a narrative building process by putting other aspects of their life on hold. Other interests seem viscerally dull and uninteresting.
The subconscious trawls through an experiential archive of similar sad memories. Then it presents potentially relevant content in the imagination for conscious veto or accreditation. A narrative explanation for the incurred loss takes priority over mundane activities. If the memories that bubble up do not add clarity – to the current sad loss – they can be dismissed. A haunting memory around the time of such losses does not mean the content is relevant, but that it’s similar in tone. Especially when people have busy lives, setting time aside for such a sad process of affirming and disregarding associative memories can be annoying.
Also, to rest and recuperate after a physical blow is accepted as normal, yet recognition for such a restorative period after a non-physical loss is rather scant. People are largely unaware of the narrative building period. Accurate narrative explanations of loss lead to a faster and more stable recovery that better supports longevity. Similar mistakes are less likely to be repeated. People will significantly improve their future health with the ability to better manage similar stressful situations.
Pain is a negative physical reaction to cell damage. Sadness is an emotional form of pain where the damage is done to social prosperity owing to loss. The depressive and unpleasant emotion of sadness is to stop damage to future prosperity by adjusting the current psychological architecture. A reflective state is induced to ensure an explanation of how the loss materialised.
Sadness acts as an emotional marker for hindsight. The experiential evidence can be used by the subconscious at a pre-semantic level. To own the loss, experience the emotion, and recognise what caused its creation is important. When a similar situation is perceived in the future, the emotional marker will be a part of memory – personal learned dispositions – and will prompt adaptive behaviours.6
Nevertheless, there are important cognative biasses of which people are best made aware. Sadness is the “out with the old and in with the new” emotion. The evolutionary core features of sadness create deep feelings as motivation to churn up the past and renew the attitudes towards the cause of the problem. A side-effect regarding money exists. Decision making on unrelated topics can be affected by this earthmoving disposition. People who are experiencing sadness are more willing to sell their possessions at a lower price than they would do normally, and buy possessions at a higher price than they would do normally. People become far more susceptible to the “here why don’t you try this to cheer you up” approach to marketing. They are more likely to become indebted when depressed.
Sadness has its own distinctive facial features. The mouth and cheeks show a frown. The eyebrows are scrunched together low in the middle of the forehead – a sign that a state of action is not engaged and inward reflection is on-going. The head often hangs off the shoulders looking towards the ground. Thoughts and actions become progressively slower, and the elimination of tears often accompanies the depressive feelings as their intensity increases. As serious damage to social prosperity is perceived, people cry. Perception of significant change to social consequences, not the recoiling pain, seems to be the cause of tears, for people cry when they’re elated too.
Facial displays of sadness instinctively evoke sympathy from onlookers.7 As shown in sympathy-related physiological responses and expressions, the perception of someone else’s distress causes overt attempts to help from children (as early as eight months old) and adults.8 Humans predominantly use the eyebrows and cheeks to detect sadness.9 Expressions such as a hung head and shrugged posture act as further indicators of the emotion’s intensity.
Amazingly and admirably, sadness appears to be millions of years old in origin. Although the experience of sadness will vary with the degree of consciousness a creature possesses, vast amounts of creatures potentially suffer it. This is inferred from its neurological execution site within the brain. The midbrain is located at the top of the brainstem. Many of the reactions of sadness are initiated from an execution site in this region called the mesencephalon.10
An experimental medical treatment for people suffering from Parkinson’s concerned the midbrain. The team provided laboratory evidence of what happened. Treatment involved inserting electrodes into the midbrain’s motor nuclei. The placements of the eight electrode points were two millimetres from each other, and there were four on the left side and four on the right. To gauge which point gave the optimal result for the patient, a low-intensity, high-frequency electrical current was passed through one electrode at a time.
Perspective of the two millimetre gap is enhanced when it’s understood that neurons are measured in thousandths of a millimetre, and over eighty billion neuron cells reside in the human brain. A number of electrodes positioned two millimetres apart cover a vast expanse in terms of neuron populations, like different cities in a country.
The doctors were testing the implanted electrodes in a patient when something extraordinarily unexpected happened. As a current was passed through one of the electrodes, the team behind the screen waited to see if improved motor function would result. But the patient diverted the focus of everybody’s attention with an abrupt change in mood. Slumping forward, she suddenly stopped talking and cast her eyes down. A few seconds later she began to cry. A few more seconds and the tears were flowing. The emotional episode caused the doctors to be distracted from looking at her motor functions. This was a Parkinson’s sufferer in distress, and they were naturally sympathising with her; what had happened to make her experience such distress?
A few more seconds and the patient started talking about how deeply sad she was. Then how she had no energy, how she’d had enough of life, and how it was pointless. She displayed increasing intensities of sadness that rapidly reached despair. She said she was worthless, and that she was scared of this world and wanted to hide in the corner.
This is when the physician controlling the treatment had an idea. “The change in the patient’s disposition could be a result of the electric current being passed through her brain?” he thought and promptly stopped the process.
A minute or so later, the patient had another abrupt change in disposition. She began talking in a light-hearted manner as she had been before the shocking experiment. “What was that all about?” she said in astonishment. “Where did that come from?” She couldn’t explain where the sadness had originated from, or why it escalated to despair.
Just as if neurotransmitters and hormones had been released from a deeply sad thought, the current had activated motor nuclei of sadness. She had uncontrollably experienced the motor functions and associative mentality of the emotion. The astonishing abruptness was due to the direct electrical current. In usual circumstances the motions of sadness would graduate slowly. Normally, the initial impulses stem from a sad perception in the prefrontal cortex before being relayed to the execution site in the midbrain. The electrode had bypassed any need for the natural triggering of the motions.
The motions of sadness are most often triggered by thoughts in the cerebral cortex, and they relate to a perceived event – an emotionally competent stimulus.
The newest parts of the human brain are integrated with the earliest parts, and all work as one. Although it may seem like it, the brain is not one unit. Brains are comprised of many systems that have evolved at different times and at different rates. The gradual evolution of different systems took hundreds of millions of years. Nevertheless, all the systems are inseparably integrated with one another. All the systems are inter-dependent. They work seamlessly. The systems that are hundreds of millions of years old, like the brainstem, have frequent instructions from the newest systems such as the neo-cortex. The fluent communication between the old and the new is constant. It is indispensable. The older parts of the human brain are essential for consciousness.11 They will never be redundant.
Loss has psychological, emotional and biological effects. Depressive neurotransmitters and hormones are released into the body’s systems when loss is perceived. A slump in biological, psychological and emotional states is experienced which corresponds to sad electro-chemical reactions. Sections of the midbrain region are inextricable to sadness. This is an intimate and influential part of the nervous system, for it has many neural programmes that directly alter metabolic – chemical balances that maintain life – processes.12
Failure does not have to be experienced directly. People become sad too when a person they care for fails. The more direct the loss is, the greater the affect is. The more intimately the person is known, the stronger the feelings will be. This failure has the widest possible context and includes anything that’s perceived to deprive cared for persons of rewards. Time, somebody, something, or even ideas; it really doesn’t matter. A perception of loss is all that’s required.
If more failures are perceived than successes, depressive territory is looming. Mood will become slumped. The neuro-biological and psychological effects of repeated failures, without success, take their toll. Successes release neurotransmitters and hormones that stimulate positivity in the brain. Tense neuro-biological systems are relaxed. Thoughts flow more freely. If people do not have enough successes, they will become depressed to some degree. Perception controls this process. An imagined failure still has the same biological effects as a real failure. If a perception is believed, the corresponding emotion is experienced. Prolonged inappropriate emotions stress and disrupt people’s metabolism, and this includes suppressing immune system functioning which leaves them more vulnerable to infection (see Stress).13
A small amount of sadness on a regular basis is not a detrimental thing as long as successes are at hand to buffer the effects. The intensity of people’s sadness will be greater if a failure is perceived to be highly significant to their prospects. Just as serious successes produce elation, significant failures cause despair. Nonetheless, lots of little losses are not to be underestimated. They can build up sadness, so mood becomes significantly affected. This is above all true when losses are incurred continuously.
People can be sad when doing well, but someone they care for experiences serious failures. When consequences are significantly negative, sometimes people stop caring for others who are habitually self-destructive or have a very serious illness. If people have only a few successes in their lives, the negativity of someone else’s sadness can be overwhelming. This is a largely unconscious activity. Even though they may look uncaring to onlookers, people may detach from a person they know who’s unwell because they subconsciously fear becoming too sad. This is a defence-mechanism called “withdrawal” that stops people becoming too depressed. A statement to condone or sanction this is not. A statement validating the psychological withdrawal that many people have experienced with the people they care for most, it is. Everyone has to care for a person before they can withdraw. As anxiety and guilt creep in from perceptions of potential neglect, and questions of loyalty are raised, people often find it difficult to come to terms with their exit.
In general, if successes outweigh failures, then depression is offset. The immune system’s operation is healthy. To find and do anything that leads to success on a regular basis has positive effects on health. Successes contribute to self-confidence by creating a sense of control in the world that will reduce anxieties and contribute to a positive mental outlook (see Optimism). Success and failure can be imagined as a bank balance. Too much failure or loss will put people in the red, and their mood becomes negatively affected.
Middle English. Sad = serious, grave, unhappy.
1. Overly serious, gravity of mind or demeanour.
2. Of persons, their feelings or dispositions: sorrowful, mournful.
3. Of times, places, actions, etc.: characterised by sorrow, sorrowful.
4. The feeling of things sorrowful; distressing, calamitous, lamentable.