Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Sadness

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What is sadness, why does it occur, and what can be done about it?

What is sadness[edit | edit source]

Sadness, a natural emotion which is standard to human living. It’s indispensable to experience low feelings in order to feel high. There are theories which reason the need for human emotions, including the influence of physiological, social and environmental explanations. Understanding the complexity of human neurology and the influence the social environment can play, will help individuals better understand themselves. Knowing oneself allows for better decision making and choices leading to beneficial behaviour. If choices are made which do not lead to positive outcomes, feelings of sadness occur (Keltner & Gross, 1999).

The degree to which sadness is felt varies within individuals based on external influences, biological make up and learnt ways to deal with situations. Depression is a prolonged state of low mood, people have a lack of pleasure in all, or every life event, weight loss or gain, feelings of worthlessness and suicidal thoughts (Mendius, 2008). Sadness and depression should not be confused as it is healthy to experience emotions in order to make choices and experience life.

Motivation, emotion and sadness[edit | edit source]

The following book chapter, Sadness will describe potential explanations for feelings of sadness. This chapter will explain physiological factors that are associated with emotions such as sadeness and will suggest ways to manage emotions. “…emotions urge and direct behaviour or, in other words, that emotions have motivational character (Parkinson & Colman).” Motivation is described as the arousal that arises from the importance of an objective and the actions necessary to attain the outcome. If the goal is too hard to accomplish then arousal will fade. This can lead to disenchantment (Keltner & Gross, 1999).

Goals and motivational arousal is bought upon from psychological, physical and social needs. If the required needs are not acquired, then emotional discomfort like sadness will arise (Reeve,1999). It is important to find strategies to cope with negative emotions so they don't become overwhelming. Feelings of negativity often leave people feeling despaired and therefore less motivated. A positive attitude allows people to think more clear and have more energy leading to more motivation (Lane, et al., 1997).

Theories[edit | edit source]

Interestingly, emotions are defined according to the language spoken. Our interpretations are based on what we know yet there is no objective measure. A general feeling of being high or low and varying degrees of intensity are experienced yet we label these emotions in terms which we believe they are called. One may interpret sensations as sadness where another person may not consider these feelings to be described as sad. Environmental influences effect people in various ways according to their knowledge and previous experiences (Ortony, 1988).

The evolutionary explanation explains, emotions are ways in which the brain approaches and processes to adjust to the physiological, psychological, and behavioural limitations of the organism and the ways which will escalate the ability and inclination for an appropriate response to specific situations (Nesse, 1990). Charles Darwin's study, The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animal, 1872, describes emotions being genetically based. Further research and investigation has been conducated to elaborate and support on Darwin’s theories. Darwin’s theory is emotions are what motivate people to take action. Experiencing sadness is a feeling that creates unpleasantness. This then prompt's people to move away from the source of this irritation (Roeckelein,2006). Tomkins,Izard,and Plutchick, concluded that people are born with primary emotions: fear, anger, joy, disgust, interest, and suprise. There are only a slight amount of emotions. The verying number of emotions described are just differences in the intensity of the basic emotion. Plutchicks model is based on an evolutionary perspective, with an underlying belief that emotions are required in order to survive(Roeckelein,2006).

Feelings of sadness can be beneficial, creating motivation to make changes and grow thorugh life. It allows individuals to deal with balancing positive and negative aspects within their lives, which leads to achievement of achieving positive goals. It’s the complexity of people's lives which often make seeking the source of this biological drive of emotions hard. This difficulty to find the source to emotions is what prolongs emotions such as sadness. Prologning feelings which are natural on a day to day level can lead to more depressed feelings. Aaron Temkin Beck, explained, that sadness is evoked when there is loss and the natural tendency is to withdraw. Loss, leads to negative feelings and a negative perspective of the world. Sadness can arise without positive reinforcement and too much loss (Leventhal, 2008).

A cognitive behavioural perspective would say sadness is an emotion related to a lack of positive reinorcement. That is, positive relationships, experiences and environmental states. Theories on the origins of emotion are countless. The James- Lange Theory of Emotion dweveloped by, William James and Carl Lange, state that emotions are a result of a physiological reaction to external stimuli. James (1884), acknowledges emotions as intrinsically driven and arise at birth without cognitive process, yet also respects extrinsic factors influencing emotions from, cognitive responses in thought toward society (Ortony, 1988). If someone were to walk into an overwhelmingly loud, crowded and wild party with a group of drunk strangers, it would potentially make someone think that they are uncomfortable. These perceptions of the situation and ideas of being uncomfortable would then be the cause of anxiety. Researchers debate the theory with the idea that the physiological reaction is the response to the stimuli rather then the stimuli triggering a physiological response, the Cannon-Bard theory is an example.

It has been questioned that people are too often misdiagnosed with depression rather than accepting feelings of sadness as an ordinary part of life. Lang, (1985), enforces the notion that emotions are phylogenetically from survival duties. Skinner, theorised that depression is linked to a low rate in positively reinforced behaviour. Similarly Ferster and Lewinsohn support that a high level of loss leads to sadness. The Behavioural Activation therapy is a treatment program for depression. The program established by Lewinsohn, aims to raise environmental reinforcement and descrease punishment(Ortony, 1988). A functionalist approach states that, emotions are adjustments to difficulties in the in the current individual’s environment. Assumptions about the purposes of emotions, are based on the causes and consequences of emotion within the individual’s life. People will act according to their physical make up and what was previously learnt. Emotional responses are what drive the actions to get through day to day life (Keltner & Gross, 1999).

Physiological factors[edit | edit source]

Images from neurological research can create images that show regions in the brain accociated with feelings of sadness. Research can not state the exact cause for emotions, rather areas within the brain activated when emotions arise. There is still debate between the amount of genetic factors and environmental influences which contribute to activating these areas of the brain. It is unexceptional to experience emotion such as sadness, as it is part of human physiology. Hormones play a vital part in emotions. Some primary hormones are, Cortisol, a hormone related to stress, with contributes to poor intellectual functioning, negative affect and low health. Testosterone has a high contribution to sex and arousal, Oxytocin is a hormone which leads people to seek comfort in times of need, bonding tendencies to cope with issues in the world. Dealing with negative feelings requires a release in dopamine. Dopamine enhances functioning. Neuroimaging and neurological studies have found that sad facial expressions enhanced activity in the left amygdala and right temporal pole. Sad expressions activate the amygdala region and lesions’ in this region have demonstrated difficulty in recognising expressions. Emotional expression is learnt through the amygdala (Dolan,1999).

Dopamine originator of Norepinephrine,which has resulted from tyrosine which comes from diet, comes from regions in the brain stem, the locus ceruleuis and lateral tegmentum. These regions send axons to the cerbellum, spinal cored and amygdala. This shapes conciousness and emotional response. A shortage in dopamine production can effect norepinephrine production. This results in lethargy and low levels of energy, which results in a struggle to get up and go. An excessive amount of dopamine can lead the psychotic moods (Mendius, 2008).

Positron emission tomography (PET) studies of emotion have reflected that areas of the brain which have shown activity for sadness are bilateral inferior and orbitofrontal cortex. bilaterally in anterior cingulate,medial prefrontal, and mesial temporal cortex, as well as in brainstem, thalamus, and caudate/putamen (Lane et al,1997). Ekman and Friesen focussed on facial expressions and the human race being universal and without influence from cultural factors. Studies in this field find that infants exhibit expressions of anger, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise and disgust even in such beginning life (Lane et al,1997).

Similar to Ekman and Friesens study with men and facial expression, Lane, Reiman, Ahern, Schwartz,& Davidson (1997), experimented on the brain activity and emotions. Using 12 neurologically and psychiatrically, between 18and 30 who were female participants Positron emission tomography was used to measure regional brain activity. There were 12 conditions for each participant, happiness, sadness, and disgust and three control conditions, each induced by film and recall. Emotion and control tasks were alternated throughout. Condition order was pseudorandomized and counterbalanced between the particpants. For each emotion and control condition the brain regions were examined. Results support that varying brain regions are responsible for various emotion.

Brain regions and the emotions associated


Hypothalamus image.png

• Associated with some forms of sadness

• Pleasurable feelings and emotion are maintained in this area

• Unpleasant feelings, sleep deprivations, eating disorders, lack of energy and appetite are symptoms from the hypothalamus (Mendius, 2008)

Orbitofrontal Cortex

Prefrontal cortex.png

• Controls the response and reaction to stimulus through the release of amygdale to the hippocampus

• Controls, mood, drive and responsibility

• Critical part of memory, reward and making decisions, and emotional and social behaviour

• Associated with mood disorders (Cavada and Schultz, 2000)

Nucleus Accumbens

Nucleus accumbens.jpg

• Affiliated to processing response to rewards and reinforcement

• Processing the social environment and reward, reinforcements from interactions (Meshi et al., 2013)

Cerebral Cortex

Cerebral Cortex location.jpg

• Developing sensory impulses into distinguished messages

• Divided into four lobes:

-The frontal lobe controls motor activity and speech, the parietal controls touch and position -The temporal lobe handles auditory reception and memory -The occipital lobe at the back of the brain holds the brain's major visual-reception area -The limbic lobe controls smell, taste, and emotional responses.

The cerebral cortex is crucial for socialising, mood control, energy and concern. This area of the brain is related to memory and decision making, a critical part in motivation and perspective of the world (Cavada & Shultz, 2000).

There is debate between happiness being genetically determined or environmentally influence. Lykken & Tellegen, (1996), found in twin studies and adoption studies that provided evidence, based on twin studies and adoption studies, that the genetic make up for wellbeing is as high as 80%. Genetically people are said to have a set point for happiness, based on their natural physiological make up which generates hormones and brain functioning (Lyubomirsky, et al, 2005). Physiological reasons for emotions can lead to feelings of hopelessness, with a belief that genetically predisposed. Personality traits are expected to the stable across the lifespan and studies such as the “Big Five,” reveal cognitive and behavioural complexities are genetic. The Hedonic Treadmill, infers that happiness is just temporary and people quickly adapt to new situations which lead them to feel happy. Before long the momentary happiness wears away and people feel how they did initially. (Brickman and Campbell, 1971, in Lyubomirsky, et al, 2005).

Despite research and suggestions concluding that happiness is based on physiological factors, there is still substantial support to say that sadness can be overcome through effective search of life objectives that are intrinsically gratified.

Targeted, neurotransmitter interventions can be implemented by: • A healthy, low sugar diet. • Exercise • Optimal thyroid (have your doctor check your “TSH”). • Optimal iron (have your doctor check your “ferritin”). • A high potency, high B-vitamin multi vitamin, including high B-12 and folic acid. • Fish oil where the combined dose of EPA and DHA is at least 1000 mg. In worser cases, a drug may be presecribed to help with optimising happiness. Some examples of drugs are, Stimulating neurotransmitters- norepinephrine.and dopamine anxiety-Theonine is an amino acid found in green tea and put into chewing gum Serotonin is probably the most important neurotransmitter for contentment. Combatting sadness through natural approaches is often the most encouraged.

Motivation and sadness[edit | edit source]

Decisions are dependent on moods. Understanding the theories and physiological aspects related to human emotions is important. Understanding emotions, such as sadness can allow individuals to find strategies, and ways to monitor and cope with feelings which may be overwhelming. Once individuals are in a healthy state of mind their ability to make decisions is more clear and they are often more productive and motivated. It is suggested that processing information is not as logical, leading to judgements which are not as well managed by individual's who are suffering from negative feelings such as sadness and anxiety. Learned Helplessness, is the way in which people avoid situations which may result in a negative or unpleasant result. People experiencing learned helplessness withdraw from activities with an automatic belief they have no ability or control in the situation and are better off not doing anything. If an individual feels that cannot achieve desired outcomes such as losing weight, getting a job promotion, finding a new home,(some common examples), then they are likely to become depressed, and not perform successfully in doing the things they want to happen. In this frame of mind, people are unlikely to feel motivated, therefore leading to feelings of sadness.

Cognitive theorist Peterson and Seligman(1985, in Leventhal, 2008), describe learned helplessness as the contributing cause for feelings of sadness. Avoiding behaviour in the fear of inability to achieve positive reinforcement decreases motivation to take action and do things which will provide constructive input to individual’s lives (Leventhal, 2008).Motivation allows for life to be lived. Making conscious decisions and living life through active goals and steps to achieve desired outcomes allow for satisfaction and happiness. Outlined is an example of the development of sadness or depression from mundane routine. Motivation can be extrinsic, due to requirements to meet physiological needs, food and shelter but also intrinsic, in an effort to earn money to care for a loved one. Working harder and for longer hours may come with the incentives to gain a promotion and earn more money, yet this may have consequences such as sleep deprivation, poor health, lake of social and leisure time, the reward (income), may not be a substantial reinforcement. The reward may be too small for the effort required. When there is a discrepancy between current states and the ideal state is broad motivation can energise and direct behaviour with the desire for change. Motivation may also decrease if the desired goal seems too challenging (Ryan et al, 2011).

Perceived Control has an enormous explanation on the effects people have in producing results. When one believes they have the ability required to complete actions successfully, they will then have a higher chance of carrying through tasks which result in satisfied feelings. With a belief that one cannot perform well, negative emotions result. The study of school children by Skinner et al, 1990, looks at reasons for students between 8 and 10 years old, commitment in the class room. Results reflected that students knew effort was required for success, secondly they recognized themselves as being intellectually capable to face classroom challenges, and the awareness to access people with the ability to help them seek results, such as teachers with higher capacity. The study found that children that were not as engaged with school activities, were genetically less capable but also likely to feel influential and capable of finding strategies to succeed. The analysis found factors in effort, ability,

Overcoming sadness[edit | edit source]

Gottman's Approaches to Happiness

  • We need to activate the good with the bad at a minimum 5 to 1 ratio.
  • We need to simplify our lives, more is not necessarily better, and ruminating about choices and options will not necessarily help us further. (Greener grass)
  • We need to activate the areas of the brain that promote biological and psychological health, such as the left frontal lobe and the left insula and cingulate. (people talking)
  • We need to balance the nutrition of the brain to optimize the chemistry of the brainstem (see below). (Healthy food)

(Mendius, 2008)

Individuals should accept that sadness is a normal and vital part of life. Often people become more agitated and depressed with a belief that they are not normal because of negative feelings they may be experiencing. People often feel guilty for having feelings of sadness as it is more pleasurable to be happy. Taking time out to explore emotions and life's circumstances is important to understand the reasons for behaviour and life choices. Characteristic’s influence people to be more impulsive, have lower tolerance and therefore are more suspect able to depression. Highly influential factors associated with feelings of depression are prominently related to loss, losing self- esteem, failing to achieve aspired goal, loss of financial stability, death, and rejection. Understanding emotions, such as sadness can allow individuals to find strategies, and ways to monitor and cope with feelings which may be overwhelming.

Cognitive behavioural therapy has been shown as one of the leading methods in combating depression. Strategies focussing on overcoming negativity through cognitive exercises and lifestyle choices have shown results for long lasting happiness. Happiness is best achieved when goals are intrinsic. This suggests, seeking objectives to goals, because it is something personally valuable, rather than something expected from others (Kasser & Ryan, 1996).

Happiness is provoked by news that is concurrent with rising generative success and being respected, Experiencing feeling of being loved, making love, having children, watching them grow and having grandchildren. Sadness is stimulated by situations associated with diminishing health, loss of reputation, loss of possessions, social rejection, loss of a friend or lover, or death of a child. These are universal situations which people find themselves feeling either high or low (Nesse, 1990). This demonstrates the influence environmental factors play on emotions and the importance of creating a lifestyle in accordance to feeling positive. There are going to be times which we inevitable to feel sad, such as sickness and loss of loved ones. It is important to take control of what can be managed, such as eating foods which will sustain growth and well being, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption which can be damaging. Creating friendships which embrace the best characteristics within a person and promote the best in each other. Working for companies with good values and ethical work environments so life is bearable and pleasant to wake up too each day.

The environment which a person creates for their life plays a vital role in the emotional journey they will face. Research indicates that we are influenced and conform to the environment we immerse ourselves in. The social environment plays an enormous factor. People make perceptions of the world are often mediated through others opinions. When surround with friends and work colleges who have positive opinions there is a higher chance of also feeling good.mirroring the emotions of others.

Once negative emotions are shifted through the focus on positive feelings, motivation to live life to it's maximum will start to occur.Studies find the highest predictors to happiness are Love, Work and Personality. Love and Marriage, were found to be the most crucial part to happiness. Universally, results find that married people have higher levels or happiness then those who are single or divorced. Work is the next key source in happiness. Having a sense of purpose, set goals to achieve and gaining satisfaction through positive feedback and reward through payment plays a strong part in happiness. Personality is the third significant factor. External circumstances such as money, age, parenthood, intelligence, and attractiveness, were not likely causes of happiness. Personality factors such as extroversion, outgoing, social people demonstrate to be to be happier (Wayne, 2007).

Essential Needs

Recognising the essential needs is crucial to be aware of the required life choices which need to be made in order to achieve happiness and to reduce sadness. Ideally people will have autonomy, self-direction and personal endorsement to engage in desired behaviour in attempt to attain objectives. When goals seem unobtainable and needs are not met it’s often easy to become unmotivated. Sad individuals, often feel little confidence and rate of performance drops. Talking to someone important about life matters is useful to help positive thinking, feelings and behaviour in accordance to overcome obstacles positively.


It has been found that older people are overall happier than younger. Due to experience and an understanding of what life has to offer, they often learn what is best for their lives (Brunstein & Apter, 2008). Through this there is encouragement that happiness can definitly be achieved through experience and knowledge. Holding onto faith and having hope that tomorrow will bring be happier.

Sharing challenges with other people develops feelings of relatedness. Relatedness facilitates social needs, and these interactions with other people is positive in supporting formations of personal bonds. Personal bonds require, valuing and accepting, and therefore increasing self-esteem which develops internalisation, that enables individual’s perspectives and ideas to help support and encourage others (Ryan, 2011).

Quick Quiz[edit | edit source]

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 Evoluntionary Explanation explains sadness as?

an appropriate response to physiologcial factors
an appropriate response to specific situations
unnecessary to human life
a weakening to motivation

2 James- Lange Theory of Emotion describes sadness as?

an appropriate response to physiological factors
an appropriate response to specific situations
a combination of the environment and physiological factors
emotion from genetics passed on from the mother

3 Unpleasant feelings, sleep deprivations, eating disorders are associated with?

Cerebral Cortex
lake of positive reinforcement

4 learned helplessness is described as?

learning how to overcome obstacles
avoiding behaviour in the fear of inability
forgetting over time
being lazy

5 Sadness can be overcome by meeting which needs?

Physiological,social and psychological
Spiritiual and Emotional
Psychologcial, spiritual and physiologcial
Social, emotional and physiologcial

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

These is no absolute reason that emotions such as sadness arise from just physiological structure or environmental influence. It can be debated but most widely accepted is that our emotions arise from the combination of our social interactions and the impact of the world which then shapes the physiological elements. Say someone had a very busy lifestyle, constantly drinking coffee, take away food, has a lake of sleep and is consistently stressed due to a high demand job position, they will have a high level of caffine which will alter regions in the brain, such as adenosine receptors which has inhibitory effect on neural activity. When someone is not receiving the required amount of sleep, the body deprives itself of recovery and restoration which impacts the functioning of cells and major mucsel groups. Creating lifestyle choices which promote a well functioning body has proven to have an enormous impact on mood and shifting sadness and negative moods. It is normal and necessary to experience a variety of emotions in order to function. Sadness can have a very positve impact as it also increases motivation to some extent. The quote at the top of this page, "The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind." William James (1842-1910), is very encouraging. It's easy to feel discouraged and strange for feeling negative, especially when no specific reason is available, yet there is always hope to make choices, seek help and overcome the misery.

The following clip psychiatry and the Meaning of Pain - The Value of Sadness demonstrates the positive effect sadness can devise. Mark Salter: Psychiatry and the Meaning of Pain - The Value of Sadness

See also[edit | edit source]

Money and hapiness


References[edit | edit source]

Brehm,J.W., Beverly H., & Brummett, B. H. (1999). Paradoxal Sadness. 23(1). Retrieved from

Izard, C.E. (1992). Basic Emotions, Relations Amoung Emotions, and Emotion-Cognition Relations. American Psychological Assoiciation, 99(3), 561-565. 0033-295X/92/S3.00. Retrieved from Parkinson, B. & Colman, A.M.(Eds).(1995).Emotion and Motivation. Edited by Brian Parkinson and Andrew M. Colman.London and New York. Retrieved from

Lane, R.D, Reiman, E.M., Ahern, G.L., Schwartz, G.E., & Davidson, R.J. (1997). Neuroanatomical Correlates of Happiness, Sadness, and Disgust. Am J Psychiatry 154 (7),926-233. Retrieved from

Leventhal, A.M. (2008). Sadness, Depression, and Avoidance Behaviour. Sage Publications, 10ː1177/0145445508317167, 32(6), 759-779. Retrieved from,+Depression,+and+Avoidance+Behaviour.&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart&sa=X&ei=H552UvGkFcbikgWjy4GIAQ&ved=0CCcQgQMwAA

Mendius, R. (2008). From Sadness to Contentment. Train your Brain (13)Wisebrain. Retrieved from [http://%5B [

Nesse, R. M. (1989). Evolutionary Explanations of Emotions. Human Nature, 1(3),261-289. Retrieved from

Ortony, A., Cl ore, G.L., & Collins, A.(1988). The cognitive structure of emotion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Retrieved from, Ortony, A., Clore, G.L., & Collins, A.(1988). The cognitive structure of emotion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from

Patrick, B.C., Skinner,E.A,& Connell, J. P.,(1993).What Motivates Children's Behavior and Emotion? Joint Effects of Perceived Control and Autonomy in the Academic Domain. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65 (4), 781-791. Copyright 1993 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.0022-3514/93/S3.00. Retrieved from

R.M,Ryan, M.F,Lynch, M. Vansteenkiste, & E.L, Deci(2011).Motivation and Autonomy in Counseling, Psychotherapy, and Behavior Change: A Look at Theory and Practice. Invited Integrative Review The Counseling Psychologist.39(2) 193 –260, DOI: 10.1177/0011000009359313 [ DOI: 10.1177/0011000009359313]

Roeckelein, J.E. (2006).Psychology PLUTCHIK'S MODEL OF EMOTIONS. The American psychologist,Elsevier's Dictionary of Psychological Theories. Retrieved from,

Smith, F.W., & Sehyns, P.G. (2009). Smile Through your Fear and Sadness Transmitting and Identifying Facial Expression Signals Over a Range of Viewing Distances. Psychological ScienceːSage Publishing 20(10), 1202-1208. Retrieved from,+W.,+%26+Schyns,+P.G.+(2009).+Smile+Through+your+Fear+and+Sadness+Transmitting+and+Identifying+Facial+Expression+Signals+Over+a+Range+of+Viewing+Distances.+Psychological+Science&source=bl&ots=nhfDQQ7x0J&sig=FGyZZx6Yevx3Lay2t7Pv0dJr8cs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=lZx2UvfZCsGMkAWV3oHIDg&ved=0CDoQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Smith%2C%20W.%2C%20%26%20Schyns%2C%20P.G.%20(2009).%20Smile%20Through%20your%20Fear%20and%20Sadness%20Transmitting%20and%20Identifying%20Facial%20Expression%20Signals%20Over%20a%20Range%20of%20Viewing%20Distances.%20Psychological%20Science&f=false

External links[edit | edit source]

Grief and Depression Redux.

The anatomy of sorrow: a spiritual, phenomenological, and neurological perspective.

Mark Salter: Psychiatry and the Meaning of Pain - The Value of Sadness