Motivation and emotion/Book/2017/Sadness as the longest lasting emotion

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Sadness as the longest lasting emotion:
Why is sadness the longest lasting emotion?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Someone 'hanging their head' as a reaction to being sad.

This chapter discusses why sadness is the longest lasting emotion.

  • what happens within the body when sadness is experienced.
  • explore the different factors which attribute to sadness being the longest lasting emotion, such as age, gender, culture, and society.
  • examine other factors which attribute to the length of sadness.

Emotions are seen as short-lives[grammar?] patterns of things we perceive and experience (Bastian, Hornsey, Koval, Kuppens, Park, & Uchida, 2012). Why do some emotions last longer than others and out of all the emotions why is sadness the longest lasting emotion? Sadness is typically directed toward or about an event. It takes time to fully accept a situation that elicits sadness (Lench, Tibbett, & Bench, 2016).


I do believe that if you haven’t learnt about sadness, you cannot appreciate happiness.
- Nana Mouskouri

What Is Sadness?[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Definition[edit | edit source]

Sadness is defined as the feeling of sorrow or unhappiness. Sadness is shown to last, on average, five days (Verduyn & Lavrijsen, 2014).

Why Do We Feel Sad?[edit | edit source]

We often feel sad when we experience a loss or trauma, such as:

  • Break-ups / Divorce
  • Death of a loved one
  • Illness
  • Failure / Loss of goals

The more emotionally invested in something the stronger the feeling of sadness. If you lack emotional investment (i.e., you haven't put much time into something, or were not overly worried about something) the feeling of sadness will not last as long (Philippe & Lavrijsen, 2014). We usually only invest large amounts of time into things that we enjoy (e.g., people we love) and therefore when we lose them we can be sad for extended periods of time. Thus, the emotional investment will impact on how long sadness lasts and recurring thoughts about an event which elicits sadness will prolong the experience (Verduyn, van Mechelen, Tuerlinckx, & Scherer, 2013).

Studies have shown that when we attempt to avoid feeling sad we actually end up feeling sadder for a longer period of time[factual?]. When we suppress or avoid negative emotional states it can actually cause them to amplify. It can also [missing something?] difficult to maintain suppression of these emotions (Bastian, Hornsey, Koval, Kuppens, Park, & Uchida, 2012). Having increased negative affect and decreased positive affect has also been linked to sadness (Campos, Keltner, & Parker Tapias, 2004).

While emotions usually only last a short time, they prepare us for a rapid change in our environment or can be a long process in reaction to loss of goals or desires, which cannot be easily recovered from. While feeling sad may not refrain someone from performing day-to-day tasks, sadness may still be hindering on someone's mind (Verduyn, van Mechelen, Tuerlinckx, & Scherer, 2013).

Sadness or Depression?

Check out this video describing the differences between sadness and depression Sadness vs. Depression (Youtube)

What Happens When We Feel Sad?[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. This is an example of a sad facial expression.

[Provide more detail]

Neurological Response[edit | edit source]

When people reflect negatively upon their emotions it can lead to poor psychological outcomes (Bastian, Hornsey, Koval, Kuppens, Park, & Uchida, 2012). Decreased physiological arousal is thought to reduce psychomotor activity that allows people who feel sad to concentrate on the source of their sadness without becoming distracted (Lench, Tibbett, & Bench, 2016).

In one study, when prompted with sad stimuli, the secondary somatosensory cortex shows negative activity along with the orbitofrontal region[factual?]. The basal forebrain region and the anterior pons also showed activation. Both sides of the midline cerebellum were significantly activated for sadness along with the caudate nucleus, lenticular nucleus, and the left thalamus (Damasio, et al., 2000).

Facial Response[edit | edit source]

A typical facial response to sadness is pulled in eyebrows towards the nose and a downturned mouth (Campos, Keltner, & Parker Tapias, 2004). The facial expression associated with sadness is distinct from other emotions (Lench, Tibbett, & Bench, 2016). Although happy faces are better recognised than sad faces where conditions are less focused or attention is distributed, sad faces are better recognised where more focus is present (Gupta & Srinivasan, 2015). Little difference has been found between the facial response to sadness between young adults and older adults (Kunzmann, Rohr, Wieck, Kappes, & Wrosch, 2017).

Bodily Response[edit | edit source]

A prolonged experience of feeling sad can actually shut down the body. The reason as to why the body shuts down is to conserve energy until the person is able to deal with the loss they have faced (Campos, Keltner, & Parker Tapias, 2004). States of chronic sadness have shown to be linked to impaired immune functioning, coronary heart disease, memory decrements, and other major health conditions (Campos, Keltner, & Parker Tapias, 2004).


Don't be ashamed to weep; 'tis right to grieve. Tears are only water, and flowers, trees, and fruit cannot grow without water. But there must be sunlight also. A wounded heart will heal in time, and when it does, the memory and love of our lost ones is sealed inside to comfort us.
― Brian Jacques, Taggerung

Table 1.

Table showing the average hours emotions last

Emotion Hours Lasted
Sadness 120
Joy 35
Jealousy 15
Guilt 3.5
Stress 3
Fear 0.7

Demographics[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Gender[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. A sad "emoji".

Boys are taught to suppress sadness as it may make them vulnerable. One study showed that boys had higher levels of sadness inhibition than girls while girls had more frequent disinhibited sadness displays. Boys are more likely to avoid negative emotions to prevent perceptions of weakness (Perry-Parrish & Zeman, 2009). This could also be due to the perceived social expectation. When there is a shift in relationship dynamics as people age, (for example male and female relationships become more intimate), boys are more likely to express their sadness to girls instead of their male counterparts (Perry-Parrish & Zeman, 2009). This could account for the prolonged feeling sadness[grammar?], as boys may not feel they can immediately communicate or express their feelings depending on whom they are surrounded by. It is shown that in older age, preference is to view positive images to negative images (Barber, Opitz, Martins, Sakaki, & Mather, 2016)[grammar?].

Age[edit | edit source]

When we are older we are able to understand of events and reflect upon decisions made throughout our lifespan (Dutt & Wahl, 2017). The study conducted by Kunzmann, et al., 2017, showed little difference in response to sad inducing stimuli in young adults and older adults. While another study showed a greater reaction from older adults (Kunzmann, Grühn, 2005). It should also be noted that the stimuli, which depicted middle age and older age adults dealing with loss related to social life, physical health, or mental fitness, was aimed at evoking emotions within older people because they are more likely to have experiences or had encounters with the problems present in the stimuli (Kunzmann, Grühn, 2005).

So while the reaction to sadness and the duration may not differ greatly between age, it is the event that cause sadness which differs. People react more to age-relevant events, for example; younger people may identify more strongly with different sad-evoking events while older people identify more strongly with family loss, Alzheimer’s disease, and terminal illness. (Kunzmann, Grühn, 2005).

Culture[edit | edit source]

It has been found that rather than being specific to langue[spelling?] or culture, emotions are universal (Argstatter, 2015). However, when discussing emotion in a universal context, it is important to note the possible different coping strategies and emotional labels found in different countries (Verduyn, van Mechelen, Tuerlinckx, & Scherer, 2013) and the rules of displaying, inhibiting, and exaggerating these emotions (Russell, 1983).

One study was distributed amongst 37 countries within Europe, Africa, American, Asia, and Oceania. The results showed the sadness lasted for a day or more and was reported as highly intense. The same study showed correlations between feeling disgust, shame, and guilt with guilt having the highest correlation with sadness (Verduyn, van Mechelen, Tuerlinckx, & Scherer, 2013). It was found that in poorer collectivistic African countries, on average, emotions last longer than in North-Central European countries considered rich and individualistic. As previously stated, this could be due to different coping strategies between the regions (Verduyn, van Mechelen, Tuerlinckx, & Scherer, 2013).

In Western culture, there is an emphasis on maintaining positive emotions and to negate negative emotions. While in Asian countries, maintaining emotional balance is highly regarded (Bastian, Hornsey, Koval, Kuppens, Park, & Uchida, 2012)[grammar?].

Case Study

A 40 years old widow with two young children lost her husband aged 48 due to severe liver infection within three months of diagnosis. Having a nuclear family and dependent status, it was a shock for her. Since the deceased was under regular doctor's advice, the family did not expect the loss so early. She said, "We were hoping that he would soon be alright but he left us". She could not foresee how to take care of her family and manage all things. She said, "I was so hopeless and distressed that I could not comprehend what to do?" Symptoms of sadness, difficulty in falling asleep, helplessness and disbelief were the initial responses to death. She told [grammar?] that relatives and friends took every responsibility of the last journey of the deceased. She was thankful to her parents and relatives who counseled her to play [grammar?] dual role for the sake of her children. She was made to realize that her children were disturbed, as they became irregular to school and studies. Faith in God and asking His help[grammar?] to resolve the crisis was her submission. She revealed, "It is very difficult ... but we are alive to keep his (deceased) memory in our heart forever." Fulfilling [grammar?] husband's dream seemed the only reason to stay back into life. Although the family knew about the condition they were not emotionally prepared for the loss. No matter how much time they had to "prepare", the outcomes still could have been the same.

Society[edit | edit source]

In Western Society, we are encouraged to consume in order to be happy (Dejonckheere, Bastian, Fried, Murphy, & Kuppens, 2017). Society encourages the feeling of positive emotions while negative emotions are discouraged. People who experience negative emotions tend to negatively reflect on themselves, which is due to social pressure and these negative emotions actually last longer (Bastian, Hornsey, Koval, Kuppens, Park, & Uchida, 2012).

People attempt to regulate their emotions within group contexts. Certain emotions can create a sense of social belonging and people will recall memories where a particular emotional response [grammar?] to be accepted within social groups. It is the need to connect with other people and bond over experience that allows us to have a sense of belonging (Porat, Halperin, Mannheim, & Tamir, 2016). However, it depends on the nature of the experience as to whether sharing of the event could enhance or diminish the emotional experience (Verduyn, van Mechelen, Tuerlinckx, & Scherer, 2013).

Evoking sadness[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Images[edit | edit source]

We [who?] are constantly bombarded with images that encourage feelings of happiness. So the perceived expectancy is that we should be constantly happy. This connects with the idea of societal expectations and the need to present yourself as constantly happy instead of sad (Bastian, Koval, Erbas, Houben, Pe, & Kuppens, 2015).

Music[edit | edit source]

Listening to music is often a way of coping with life events. Listening to sad music is a common experience when someone is feeling sad. Listening to sad music can create psychological pain as this action can release epinephrine and endorphins. If a decrease in epinephrine occurs this can lead to greater pleasure in listening to a song and can lead to liking the song more. This, in turn, would create repeat listens and therefore prolong sadness (Hogue, Crimmins, & Kahn, 2016).

Further Research[edit | edit source]

Further research could be done in relation to how social media influences the length of sadness. Also more universal studies could be conducted with distinct definitions of what emotions mean in each country.

Dealing With Sadness[edit | edit source]

Not sure if you’re experiencing sadness? Check out some of these helpful links. Remember; while websites can provide basic information you should always seek help from a medical professional if you are concerned about your own well-being.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Here is a quick quiz so you can test what you've read - choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

1 On average how long does sadness last?

A few minutes
A few hours
A day or longer

2 According to studies, who has a harder time expressing sadness?


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Sadness is the longest lasting emotion due to a lot of intrapersonal and interpersonal factors. The type of event and emotional investment in an event will influence the length of sadness. Suppressing sadness can also increase the duration and there recalling the event which induced sadness will also prolong the feeling.

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Argstatter, H. (2015). Perception of basic emtions in music: Culture-specific or multicultural. Psychology of Music, 674-690.
Barber, S. J., Opitz, P. C., Martins, B., Sakaki, M., & Mather, M. (2016). Thinking about a limited future enhances the positivity of younger and older adults' recall: support of socioemotional selectivity theory. Memory and Cognition, 44, 869-882.
Bastian, B., Hornsey, M. J., Koval, P., Kuppens, P., Park, J., & Uchida, Y. (2012). Feeling bad about being sad: The role of social expectancies in amplifying negative mood. American Psychological Association, 69-80.
Bastian, B., Koval, P., Erbas, Y., Houben, M., Pe, M., & Kuppens, P. (2015). Sad and alone: Social expectancies for experiencing negative emotions are linked to feelings of loneliness. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6 (5), 496-503.
Campos, B., Keltner, D., & Parker Tapias, M. (2004). Emotion. Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology, 1, 713-722.
Damasio, A. R., Grabowski, T. J., Bechara, A., Damasio, H., Ponto, L. L., Parvizi, J., Hichwa, Richard D. (2000). Subcortical and cortical brain activity during the feeling of self-generated emotions. Nature Neuroscience , 1049-1056.
Dejonckheere, E., Bastian, B., Fried, E. I., Murphy, S. C., & Kuppens, P. (2017). Perceiving social pressure not to feel negative predicts depressive symptoms in daily life. Depression & Anxiety, 836-844.
Dutt, A. J., & Wahl, H.-W. (2017). Feeling sad makes us feel older: effects of a sad-mood induction on subjective age. Psychology and Aging, 32 (5), 412-418.
Gupta, R., & Srinivasan, N. (2015). Only irrelevant sad but not happy faces are inhibited under high perceptual load. Cognition and Emotion, 29 (4), 747-754.
Hogue, J. D., Crimmins, A. M., & Kahn, J. H. (2016). "So sad and slow, so why can't I turn off the radio": The effects of gender, depression, absorption on liking music that induces sadness and music that induces happiness. Psychology of Music, 816-829.
Kunzmann, U., & Grühn, D. (2005). Age differences in emotional reactivity: The sample case of sadness. Psychology and Aging, 20 (1), 47-59.
Kunzmann, U., Rohr, M., Wieck, C., Kappes, C., & Wrosch, C. (2017). Speaking about feelings: Further evidence for multidirectional differences in anger and sadness. Psychology and Aging, 32 (1), 93-103.
Lench, H. C., Tibbett, T. P., & Bench, S. W. (2016). Exploring the toolkit of emotion: what do sadness and anger do for us? Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 11-25.
Perry-Parrish, C., & Zeman, J. (2009). Relations among sadness regulation, peer acceptance, and social functioning in early adolescence: The role of gender. Social Development, 136-153.
Porat, R., Halperin, E., Mannheim, I., & Tamir, M. (2016). Together we cry: Social motives and perferences for group-based sadness. Cognition and Emotion, 66-79.
Russell, J. A. (1983). Pancultural aspects of the human conceptual organization of emotions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45 (6), 1281-1288.
Verduyn, P., & Lavrijsen, S. (2014). Which emotions last longest and why: The role of event importance and rumination. Motivation & Emotion, 119-127.
Verduyn, P., Delvaux, E., van Coillie, H., Tuerlinckx, F., & van Mechelen, I. (2009). Predicting the duration of emotional experience: Two experience sampling studies. Emotion, 83-91.
Verduyn, P., van Mechelen, I., Tuerlinckx, F., & Scherer, K. (2013). The relation between appraised mismatch and the duration of negative emotions: evidence of universality. European Journal of Personality, 481-494.