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The quiet virtues of sadness: A selective theoretical and interpretative appreciation of its potential contribution to wellbeing



Critical emotion theorists have raised concerns that ‘normal’ human emotions like sadness are increasingly being pathologised as disorders. Counter efforts have thus been made to normalise such emotions, such as by highlighting their ubiquity and appropriacy. This paper goes slightly further by suggesting that sadness is not merely normal, but may have inherent value, and indeed be an integral component of a flourishing life. It offers a meta-theoretical review of literature on the potential ‘virtues’ of sadness. Three overarching themes are identified, each comprising four subthemes: (a) sadness as a mode of protection (including as a warning, as prompting disengagement, as a mode of conservation, and as enhanced accuracy); (b) sadness as an expression of care (including as a manifestation of love, of longing, of compassion, and eliciting care); and (c) sadness as a vehicle for flourishing (including as a moral sensibility, as engendering psychological development, as an aesthetic sensibility, and as integral to fulfilment). It is thus hoped that the paper can contribute to a more ‘positive’ cultural discourse around sadness, suggesting that, for the majority of people, experiences of sadness may serve an important and even desirable function in their lives.
The quiet virtues of sadness: A selective theoretical and interpretative appreciation of its potential
contribution to wellbeing
New Ideas in Psychology
Tim Lomas
Dr. Tim Lomas, School of Psychology, University of East London, Arthur Edwards Building,
Water Lane, London, E15 4LZ, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)20 8223 4465 Fax: +44 (0)20 8223 4937 Email:
Critical emotion theorists have raised concerns that ‘normal’ human emotions like sadness
are increasingly being pathologised as disorders. Counter efforts have thus been made to
normalise such emotions, such as by highlighting their ubiquity and appropriacy. This paper
goes slightly further by suggesting that sadness is not merely normal, but may have inherent
value, and indeed be an integral component of a flourishing life. It offers a meta-theoretical
review of literature on the potential ‘virtues’ of sadness. Three overarching themes are
identified, each comprising four subthemes: (a) sadness as a mode of protection (including as
a warning, as prompting disengagement, as a mode of conservation, and as enhanced
accuracy); (b) sadness as an expression of care (including as a manifestation of love, of
longing, of compassion, and eliciting care); and (c) sadness as a vehicle for flourishing
(including as a moral sensibility, as engendering psychological development, as an aesthetic
sensibility, and as integral to fulfilment). It is thus hoped that the paper can contribute to a
more ‘positive’ cultural discourse around sadness, suggesting that, for the majority of people,
experiences of sadness may serve an important and even desirable function in their lives.
Keywords: sadness; depression; flourishing; wellbeing; review
The quiet virtues of sadness:
A meta-theoretical appreciation of its contribution to flourishing
Depression has come to occupy an increasingly dominant place in the cultural landscape; for
instance, the World Health Organization (2006) have made the much-cited assessment that
unipolar depression is likely to be the second leading cause of global disability burden by
2020 (see e.g., Kessler et al., 2009). However, hand-in-hand with this prominence has come
heightened critical scrutiny of the construct itself. For example, theorists such as Jerome
Wakefield (1992, 2005) have argued that the psychiatric concept of depression has essentially
‘colonised’ a whole spectrum of dysphoric feelings; thus, as Horwitz and Wakefield (2007)
argue in their influential book The Loss of Sadness, emotions that were previously regarded
as natural and inherent dimensions of the human condition, from sadness to grief, have to an
extent been re-framed as psychopathologies. So, while it is generally accepted that clinical
levels of depression are indeed problematic and warranting of medical or psychotherapeutic
help, there has been something of a countermovement in recent years aimed at normalising
sub-clinical dysphoric states like sadness (Thieleman & Cacciatore, 2014). The current paper
aims to contribute to this process, showing that sadness used here as an overarching term
for states of low mood that fall short (either in terms of intensity or duration) of warranting a
clinical diagnosis of depression is not only normal, but can be valuable in helping people
live full and fulfilling lives. It will do so by exploring how sadness plays three important
roles: (a) as a form of protection; (b) as linked to caring; and (c) as a vehicle for flourishing.
However, before considering these three in turn, the first section will introduce the terrain by
exploring the conceptual evolution of depression and sadness, as well as the significance of
related terms such as melancholy.
Outlining the Emotional Terrain
Over the centuries, humanity has developed a rich and nuanced appreciation of the diverse
mental afflictions that are today arguably swept up by the overarching term ‘depression.’
Even just limiting the focus to words used in the English language, the Oxford English
Dictionary (OED; Oxford University Press [OUP], 2015) reveals a detailed lexicon, and
moreover one which has evolved subtly over the years, with shifting patterns of usage.
A Lexicon of Dysphoria
Among the most prominent of the words relating to depression is melancholy, which entered
English in the late 14th Century, derived etymologically from the Greek melankholikos. Its
prominence is attributable to the influence of the physician Hippocrates (circa 460-370 BC),
regarded as the ‘father’ of medicine (Davey, 2001). Hippocrates propounded the idea that
melancholy described in his Aphorisms as ‘fears and despondencies, if they last a long
time’ derived from an excess of black (melas) bile (kholé), reflecting the more general
belief that illness was caused by an imbalance of the body’s four ‘humours’ (i.e., fluids). The
concept remained current throughout the Middle Ages, for instance being depicted as a
psychological ailment by the influential Persian scholar/physician Ibn-Sīnā (Avicenna; 980-
1037) (Radden, 2002). The term was further popularised by Robert Burton (1621) in his
influential Anatomy of Melancholy, a wide-ranging treatise which identified a spectrum of
melancholic shades, including feeling ‘dull, sad, dour, lumpish, ill-disposed, solitary, any
way moved or displeased, before reaching even greater cultural prominence through Freud’s
(1914) Mourning and Melancholia, which identified its close association with grief.
Closely intertwined with melancholy over recent centuries, both conceptually and in
prominence, is sorrow, which also entered English around the 14th Century, derived from the
Old Norse sorg. This has a complicated relationship with melancholy; for instance, drawing
on Hippocrates, Burton (1621) wrote that sorrow is both ‘mother and daughter of
melancholy,’ and that these ‘tread in a ring...for sorrow is both cause and symptom of this
disease.’ One way of disentangling these two states is that melancholy tended to be used in a
more overarching sense to depict a range of dysphorias, including those without any apparent
cause, as well as the habitual disposition of a melancholic ‘personality’; in contrast, sorrow
was more a lament in response to specific tragedy or misfortune, including in recognition of
the universality of suffering (Pies, 2008). An influential example of the latter usage is found
in the Imitation of Christ by the 14th Century Monk Thomas à Kempis (1418-1427), regarded
as perhaps the most widely read Christian spiritual text after the bible (Espín & Nickoloff,
2007); in this, à Kempis speaks of the ‘proper sorrows of the soul,’ saying that this is the right
and proper response to the ‘vale of tears’ that is earthly life, and that ‘we often engage in
empty laughter when we should rightly weep.’
Beyond sorrow and melancholy, there is a rich vocabulary of conceptually similar
terms which remain in current usage, albeit sometimes with new inflexions, as detailed in the
OED. For instance, care entered old English (from the Proto-Germanic karo) as an
expression of concern, grief and lament, and it was not until the 16th Century that it took on
the positive nuances it now carries (e.g., to have fondness for). Likewise, pathos, taken in
the 17th Century from Greek, was used to express pity and suffering, as was the adjective
sorry (whose use in an apologetic sense did not occur until 1834). Other prominent terms
include the adjective woeful (14th Century, meaning afflicted with sorrow), the noun
chagrin (1650s, taken from French, meaning melancholy or anxiety), the adjective
lamentably (14th Century, from the Latin lamentabilis, meaning mournful and full of
sorrow), the verb condole, meaning to sorrow (15th Century, from the Latin condolere, to
suffer with another), the noun plaint (13th Century, from the Latin planctus, meaning
lamentation or wailing), and the noun misery (14th Century, from the Latin miseria, i.e.,
wretchedness), which took on connotations of great sorrow and distress from the 1530s
The Emergence of Depression
The term ‘depression’ first emerged in English in the late 14th Century from the Latin (via
French) depressionem, the past participle stem of deprimere, meaning ‘to press down.’
Originally a term in astronomy, by the early 15th Century it took on meanings of dejection
and ‘depression of spirits.’ Its usage as a clinical term is often dated to 1856, when the French
psychiatrist Louis Delasiauve began using it in place of the word melancholy (Andrews,
2010). The latter term initially continued to be more prevalent, as evinced by Freud’s (1914)
Mourning and Melancholia. However, through the work of clinicians such as Emil Kraepelin
(e.g., 1899), who referred to different kinds of melancholia using the overarching label
‘depressive states,’ depression gradually became the nomenclature of choice for medical
professionals. In 1952 the first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders (DSM) featured ‘depressive reaction,’ described as low mood and poor self-esteem
triggered by loss. The term ‘major depressive disorder’ (MDD) then emerged in the 1970s as
part of a drive to develop diagnostic criteria based on symptoms, and was incorporated into
the DSM-III in 1980 (Andrews, 2010). MDD remains the dominant construct relating to
depression in the latest fifth edition of the DSM (APA, 2013), albeit with updated
considerations, such as the removal of the DSM-IV’s ‘bereavement exclusion’ (where
clinicians were advised to refrain from diagnosing MDD in individuals within the first two
months following the death of a loved one).
While the specific omission of the bereavement exclusion continues to be a matter of
controversy, it also highlights a broader point about shifting and contested trends in terms of
what constitutes depression, and indeed what constitutes a psychopathology more generally
(Wakefield, 2013). (This point is made even more strikingly, in another context, by the fact
that homosexuality was deemed a disorder until the publication of DSM-II in 1973 (Meyer,
2003).) As such, recent years have seen much debate around not only what constitutes a
clinically significant form of depression, but moreover about the ideal conceptualisation and
nomenclature of all those forms of dysphoric low mood that fall short of this threshold. For
instance, as scholars like Horowitz and Wakefield (2007) have pointed out, if these variants
of low mood are still referred to using the term ‘depression,’ even if this is qualified as being
‘non-clinical,’ it nevertheless implies that such states are maladaptive and dysfunctional
(given that depression is essentially used culturally as an illness label). While this debate
includes consideration of the various terms highlighted above, such as melancholy and
sorrow, much of it has recently centred on the concept of sadness (Freed & Mann, 2007).
Normalising Sadness
Sadness entered English in the early 14th Century carrying implications of seriousness, but
soon took on connotations of sorrowfulness (OUP, 2015). Sadness today is seen as being
characterised by many of the same features of depression, as outlined in the DSM-V (APA,
2013), from diminished interest in pleasure, to a lack of energy (Leventhal, 2008). Crucially
though, scholars are beginning to counterpose sadness with depression, in that, whereas the
latter is a psychiatric disorder, the former which encompasses a range of dysphoric states of
low mood is a ‘normal’ emotion. This perspective is captured by Wolpert (1999, p.74) in
his book on depression, entitled Malignant Sadness: ‘Depression I believe is sadness that has
become pathological. Of course, there are a range of different views on how sadness (as a
‘normal’ emotion) differs from depression (as a ‘disorder’). Some clinicians view sadness as
being qualitatively different from depression (Stiver & Miller, 1988); for instance, Freud
(1914) argued that melancholia (i.e., depression) was accompanied by lowered self-regard
and intense guilt feelings, symptoms which were absent in ‘normal grief’ (i.e., sadness) after
a loss. Conversely, others view these as being on a spectrum, where sadness shades into
depression by degrees; for instance, according to Wakefield’s (1992) model of mental
disorder, sadness becomes depression (i.e., a pathology) when it cross a line into becoming
both harmful and dysfunctional (these each being necessary but not individually sufficient for
warranting such a diagnosis). For example, sadness might be regarded as a normal ‘time-
limited’ response to loss, but can be deemed a disorder at the point it becomes prolonged and
disruptive (although the location of this point is an issue of debate, as highlighted above with
the controversy around the removal of the bereavement exclusion) (Leventhal, 2008).
Thus, there is an emergent literature which seeks to disentangle sadness from
depression, and to normalise the former as a ‘natural’ human emotion (rather than a disorder).
Within this literature are a number of different perspectives. Perhaps most common are
efforts to render it normal by emphasising its ubiquity and appropriacy, as in Acceptance and
Commitment Therapy (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999); in this, sadness is emphasised as a
natural reaction to events such as loss, and is further normalised by stressing its universality.
However, while such rationalisations may be helpful (e.g., in terms of fostering acceptance),
they might still lend the impression of sadness as an invidious state, even if not a disordered
one; after all, many phenomena might be considered ‘natural’ – from aggression to death
but this does mean that people would want these in their lives. As such, there are also
attempts to identify the potential value of sadness, exploring its role in successful human
functioning and even in psychological development and the attainment of flourishing.
(Indeed, it has been suggested that much of the appeal of the recent Pixar production Inside
Out, which won the 2016 Academy Award for best animated film, is because of the way it
encouraged this type of re-evaluation of sadness (Moss, 2015).) In exploring the literature
around sadness, it is possible to identify three broad, overlapping themes, three ways in
which sadness is deemed to potentially play a beneficial role in human life: (a) as a form of
protection; (b) as linked to caring; and (c) as a vehicle for flourishing. The paper will explore
each of these themes in turn.
Sadness as Protection
The first main theme in the literature around the possible value of sadness highlights its role
in protecting or safeguarding an individual. For instance, focusing primarily on sadness as a
response to loss, Freed and Mann (2007) have identified three distinct models of sadness: a
reunion model, in which sadness is an intrapsychic ‘punishment’ for becoming separated
from phenomena that one loves (Eisenberger & Lieberman, 2004); a disengagement model,
in which loss is responded to with a detachment coping style (Klinger, 1975; Nesse, 2000);
and a caregiving model, in which sadness functions to elicit care (Barr, Green, & Hopkins,
2000). While the caregiving model will be discussed below in the context of the second main
theme (sadness as connected to care), the reunion and disengagement models both reflect this
first overarching theme of sadness as protection. This theme can be broken down into various
subthemes, including sadness as, (a) a warning; (b) prompting disengagement; (c) a mode of
conservation; and (d) as accuracy. These shall be considered in turn.
Sadness as a Warning
Much of the literature on the protective value of sadness is rooted in evolutionary biology, in
which attempts are made to understand the potential adaptive value of the ‘down-regulation
of positive affect systems’ (Gilbert, 2006, p.287). Such theories often take the symptoms of
sadness or depression, such as loss of energy and withdrawal from social activity, as precisely
the factors that may render sadness evolutionarily useful (albeit a process that can become
dysfunctional, as in the case of clinical depression). One way this usefulness manifests is as a
warning about a situation that may be evolutionarily costly or noxious in some way.
This idea is central to Eisenberger and Lieberman’s (2004) ‘reunion’ model of loss,
mentioned above. Eisenberger and Lieberman refer to the distress that one feels when
separated from that which one loves usually a person, but could also be a place or even an
object as ‘social pain.’ They note that the feelings that arise from such estrangement are
described with language that parallels that of physical pain (e.g., broken heart). Thus, in their
model, sadness functions as a psychological punishment for estrangement, thereby motivating
people to seek a reunion. Somewhat similarly, Hagen (1999) raises the idea that postpartum
depression may function as a ‘perinatal psychic pain’ that signals to new mothers ‘that they
are suffering or have suffered a fitness cost’ as a result of the birth (p.325). Exploring this
empirically, Hagen and Barrett (2007) argue that this pain serves as a warning to mothers that
something is amiss in their current situation whether in terms of herself, the baby, her
partner, or her circumstances more broadly and needs redressing. Sometimes such redress
may not be possible though, which is where the second protective function of sadness fits in.
Sadness as Disengagement
In some cases of sadness, the redress that one seeks (e.g., reunion) may be overly costly or
even impossible; in such an event, sadness may function to encourage withdrawal from the
‘goal.’ This is the premise of the ‘disengagement modelnoted above, in which detachment is
a coping response to loss or separation (Klinger, 1975; Nesse, 2000). This idea was initially
elucidated in Klinger’s (1975) incentive-disengagement theory, in which depression was seen
not as a pathology, but as a ‘normal, adaptive part of disengaging oneself’ from an incentive
or goal that one has perceived as unattainable (p.21). More recently, Nesse (2000) outlined
the possible adaptive value of sadness (and even depression), where symptoms such as low
energy, while subjectively unpleasant for the person, help regulate ‘patterns of investment,
e.g., stalling the pursuit of goals that ‘will likely result in danger, loss, bodily damage, or
wasted effort’ (p.14).
Of course, in making the case for the utility of sadness, one must be sensitive to the
conditions under which it may manifest as a more problematic form of clinically-significant
depression; for instance, while disengagement from an unattainable goal may be adaptive, if
this becomes generalised into a more global stance (e.g., believing that all worthwhile goals
are unattainable), this may lead to more severe depressive issues, as per Abramson, Seligman,
and Teasdale’s (1978) model of ‘learned helplessness’ (see Mikulincer (2013) for a recent
overview of work in this area). However, more time-limited and specific types of
disengagement prompted by sadness may well serve an adaptive function.
Sadness as Conservation
Related to the idea of sadness prompting disengagement is the notion that sadness might help
conserve resources when one is vulnerable, by restricting one’s sphere of engagement. There
is an interesting potential here parallel with Fredrickson’s (2001) ‘broaden-and-build’ theory
of positive emotions, in which positive affect is regarded as broadening people’s experiential
and perceptual horizons, thus enabling the person to build capacities and resources (e.g.,
social networks). Conversely then, negative affect may help ‘narrow-and-defend’ the person
during times of vulnerability. This idea was floated by Engel and Schmale (1972), who spoke
of ‘conservation-withdrawal’ in the context of despair behaviours among infant monkeys
who had become separated from attachment figures. Likewise, in humans, Thierry, Steru,
Chermat, and Simon (1984) suggested a possible adaptive value to depression as a form of
‘hibernation,’ a ‘searching-waiting strategy’ in which resources are preserved while more
optimal opportunities for engagement in the world become apparent.
More recently, in the context of work-related burnout, Hobfoll and Shirom’s (2000)
‘conservation of resources’ model holds that burnout and subsequent potential depression
may result from long-term depletion of one’s energetic resources, serving to preserve what
resources do remain. Again, as with disengagement, there are risks of longer term depressive
issues if such withdrawals are prolonged; Hobfoll and Shirom argue that initial resource loss
can lead to further ‘loss spirals’ (subsequent loss of remaining resources) and worsening
depression (see Hakanen and Schaufeli (2012) for empirical validation). However, also as
with disengagement, time-limited withdrawal to conserve resources may serve a useful
immediate restorative function (Nesse, 2000).
Sadness as Accuracy
Finally, one further way in which sadness might play a protective role is through enhancing
people’s perceptual and evaluative accuracy. It is often suggested that depression can alter
people’s judgement, e.g., making them less sensitive to reward possibilities (Paulus & Yu,
2012). However, others have argued that sadness may actually be reflective of a degree of
sober realism that can be relatively lacking in more positive moods, leading to an improved
sense of judgement. For instance, using mood induction protocols, Forgas, Goldenberg, and
Unkelbach (2009) found that a sad mood was associated with enhanced ability to remember
everyday scenes, while Storbeck and Clore (2005) similarly observed that people in low
moods are less liable to experience false memory effects (compared to those in positive
moods or those whose mood was not manipulated).
Sadness may also improve judgement: Forgas and East (2008) found that induced
sadness was associated with increased scepticism, leading to a greater ability to detect
deception. Similarly, examining the impact of mood on judgements among criminal
investigators, Ask and Granhag (2007) found that a sad mood made participants less likely to
commit the ‘fundamental attribution error,’ as they were more sensitive to both situational
and witness variables (whereas angry participants just relied on perception of witness
variables). Thus, as Bodenhausen, Gabriel, and Lineberger (2000, p.320) put it, compared to
happy moods, sad moods are ‘characterised by more extensive, detail-oriented information
processing strategies. This comment aligns with the notion of sadness offering a form of
protection, in this case through helping people navigate their social world with greater
accuracy and better (e.g., more perceptive and realistic) judgment.
Sadness as Caring
The second key theme in the literature around the value and meaning of sadness focuses on
its intimate relationship with caring and love. Such notions of course do feature in the models
included above; both models of loss already discussed reunion (Eisenberger & Lieberman,
2004) and disengagement (Klinger, 1975; Nesse, 2000) emphasise that the strongest forms
of loss concern people that one loves and cares for. However, other literature around sadness
frames its link with love and caring somewhat differently; rather than positioning sadness as a
response to a loss of love, it is presented instead as an expression of love. For instance,
discussing parental bereavement, Thieleman and Cacciatore (2014, p.6) argue that grief
serves as a ‘way to maintain a connection to a beloved deceased child.’ From this
perspective, sadness and joy are both manifestations of love, and indeed two sides of the
same coin: love in the presence of its ‘object’ manifests as joy, and in its absence manifests as
sadness. This notion plays out across a number of subthemes, including sadness as a form of
(a) love; (b) longing; (c) compassion; and (d) eliciting care. These will be discussed in turn.
Sadness as Love
The idea that sadness may be an expression of love, while perhaps recognised implicitly in
clinical contexts, has been given its clearest articulation in other realms, particularly literature
and philosophy. In these fields, it has been suggested that love is fundamentally dialectical,
involving a complex ‘co-valenced’ blend of light and dark elements (Lomas & Ivtzan, 2015).
As expressed by C.S. Lewis (1971) in The Four Loves, ‘To love at all is to be vulnerable.
Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.’ To love is to open oneself
to a spectrum of troubling feelings, from anxiety and fear over its potential loss, to grief and
despair over its actual departure (Spitzberg & Cupach, 1998). However, the key point is that
this potential dysphoria, from anxiety to sadness, is seen not as an aberration or dysfunction
of love, but the very condition of it, the ‘price tag’ one must pay in order to be in love. This is
because, as Levinas (1987, p.88) puts it, love requires a person to place his or her fate and
happiness in the hands of an ‘other,’ whose reciprocal love cannot be willed and whose
actions cannot be controlled; it is this insurmountable duality of beings’ that creates ‘the
pathos of love.’
Moreover, this sense of the dialectical nature of love is emphasised by the recognition
that its positive and negative aspects are arguably co-creating: the more intense one’s love for
a person, the greater the peril that one is exposed to (e.g., the grief one would suffer if the
relationship was lost against one’s will). Indeed, anthropological work by Lutz (1995) shows
that this kind of dialectical appreciation is encoded conceptually and linguistically in some
cultures; for instance, the Ifaluk tribe use the same word fago to encompass love, sadness
and compassion, thereby encapsulating the precious fragility of love (see de Silva (2012) for
recent additional commentary). Thus, as Bauman (2013, p.6) memorably phrases it, ‘to love
means opening up to that most sublime of all human conditions, one in which fear blends
with joy into an alloy that no longer allows its ingredients to separate.’
Sadness as Longing
A particular form of sadness as an expression of love is the concept of longing. This is a
complex state, in which feelings of sorrow at being separated from someone or something
that one loves are intermingled with an almost tantalisingly pleasant yearning to be reunited.
The co-valenced nature of longing is highlighted by Holm, Greaker, and Strömberg (2002,
p.608), who define it as ‘a blend of the primary emotions of happiness and sadness.’ The
object of longing does not need to be a person, but could be a place, another time, or even a
state of mind (such as a spiritual experience); as McGraw (2000, p.33), puts it, longing is an
‘intense wish to remove the physical or mental distance which separates the self from anyone
or anything deemed desirable.’ For instance, in a phenomenological study of the spiritual
experiences of adolescents suffering from muscular dystrophy, Pehler and Craft-Rosenberg
(2009) found that participants’ spirituality centred around intense longing for connection with
others and with a sense of the sacred.
What is particularly intriguing about longing is that, for all that it encompasses
sadness, it is highly valued in many cultures (Wierzbicka, 1999). Many languages have words
which roughly translate as longing, including saudade in Portuguese, toska (tоска) in
Russian, hiraeth in Welsh, and sehnsucht in German. For instance, Feldman (2001, p.51)
describes saudade lovingly as ‘an emotional state suffused with a melancholic sweetness that
fills the souls with longing, desire and memory. As this definition illustrates, such states are
held in high regard, including as emblematic of a national ‘character’ or a sign of a refined
sensibility, and thus are not only valued but even sought and cultivated.
Sadness as Compassion
Closely related to the idea of sadness as a manifestation of love is the connection between
sadness and compassion. Compassion has been defined by Neff (2003, p.224) as ‘being open
to and moved by the suffering of others, so that one desires to ease their suffering.’ Models of
compassion (e.g., Ozawa-de Silva et al., 2012) construct it as a potent combination of
empathy (‘an emotional reaction in an observer to the affective state of another individual’;
Blair, 2005, p.699) and sympathy (‘sorrow or concern for another’s welfare’; Eisenberg &
Miller, 1987, p.92), plus motivation and behaviour (i.e., acting to reduce their suffering).
Thus, in some instances of sadness, it may have arisen in response to the sadness or suffering
of another person. Thus, this link with compassion further presents sadness as a manifestation
of care, and so helps re-appraise it as something to be valued.
For instance, many religious traditions not only valorise compassion, but suggest it is
among the highest qualities a person can aspire to. In Christianity, St. Paul (Corinthians,
13:13) wrote, So faith, hope, love [agape] abide, these three; but the greatest of these is
love; building on this, St. Thomas Aquinas presents compassion frequently used
interchangeably with its synonym mercy as the ‘interior effect’ of agape (Barad, 2007,
p.11), and writes that mercy takes precedence of other virtues(Aquinas, 1273, II-II, q.31,
a.4). Similarly, Buddhism is often described as a ‘religion of compassion’ (Price, 2010, p.53).
In this context, sadness arising as compassion could be regarded as a sign of moral sensitivity
and worth, a point that will be returned to below in the final section on ‘sadness as
flourishing.’ Before this though, mirroring the idea of sadness as compassion is the reciprocal
idea that sadness elicits care in return.
Sadness as Eliciting Care
The counterpart to the section above sadness as a compassionate response to suffering is
that one’s own sadness can in turn elicit a compassionate response from others. Sadness has
long been recognised as a ‘care-eliciting’ behaviour (Henderson, 1974, p.172), and likewise
as a ‘signalling’ phenomenon, alerting caregivers to distress (Barr, 1990). Thus, Barr et al.’s
(2000) caregiving model of sadness holds that it serves a number of important interpersonal
functions, including inducing compassion and empathy, prompting loved ones to respond to
the person’s needs and/or to return to them (if they are absent). Such care-eliciting is arguably
most prominent in childhood, and particularly infancy, where sadness and other expressions
of distress, such as crying (Lockwood, Millings, Hepper, & Rowe, 2013) play key roles in
regulating adult attention (Lummaa, Vuorisalo, Barr, & Lehtonen, 1998).
It has been argued that depression in adults can likewise be a plea for help or
resources, as per Hagen’s (1999) perinatal psychic pain model above. However, reactions to
people with depression are often negative (Coyne et al., 1987); as such, Klerman (1974)
argues that while milder dysphorias like sadness may be adaptive (in eliciting care), ‘the adult
depressive episode represents an attempt at adaptation that has failed(p143). Nevertheless, it
remains a common position that sadness can be effective at eliciting care, as found for
example in terms of nurses’ affective responsiveness to patients (Sheldon et al., 2009).
Sadness may likewise elicit other prosocial responses; Sinaceur, Kopelman, Vasiljevic, and
Haag (2015) report that in negotiation scenarios, participants conceded more to someone
expressing sadness (relative to other emotions), as it evoked the participants other-focused
empathic concern.
Sadness as Flourishing
In the sections above, at points the idea has been raised that sadness may not only be useful,
but might actually be precious and indicative of psychological development and refinement.
This includes the religious notion that compassion (which may often manifest as sadness) is
one of the highest qualities to which a person can aspire (Aquinas, 1273), or the way in which
longing is highly valued in numerous cultures as a sought-after sensibility (Feldman, 2001).
This final section examines these ideas more fully, exploring the underappreciated notion that
sadness may actually be an important component of ‘flourishing’ (Keyes, 2002), integral to
living a full and fulfilling life. This notion can be explored in terms of four main areas: (a)
sadness as a moral sensibility; (b) sadness as engendering psychological development; (c)
sadness as an aesthetic sensibility; and (d) sadness as integral to fulfilment. This final section
will explore these in turn.
Sadness as a Moral Sensibility
As explored above, sadness may occur as a manifestation of compassion. Such compassion
could simply be viewed as an expression of love, particularly if only directed towards people
with whom one is personally close; indeed, from an evolutionary perspective, it could even
just be seen as an act of self-interest (e.g., safeguarding one’s progeny)(Workman & Reader,
2014). However, compassion may also be regarded as reflective of a moral sensibility,
especially if directed towards people with whom one has no particular personal connection
(Decety, Michalska, & Kinzler, 2012). This idea is reflected in the way that people who are
thought to have attained high levels of psychological development e.g., those deemed to
have reached ‘self-actualisation,’ according to Maslow’s (1972) terminology are frequently
defined in part by high levels of compassion. An exemplar in this regard is perhaps the
Buddha, who made compassion central to his teachings, to the extent that H.H. the Dalai
Lama has described Buddhism as a ‘religion of compassion’ (Price, 2010, p.53). Integral to
this sense of compassion is a feeling of sadness at the ubiquity of suffering; for instance,
Shenk (2006) has argued that Abraham Lincoln was driven by sorrow at the troubles of the
world, and that this fuelled his personal sense of meaning and mission.
However, this link between sadness and morality is not just the province of epochal
figures such as The Buddha or Lincoln. There is a rich emergent literature on the emotional
basis of morality, i.e., that moral judgments are driven by affective reactions such as anger
and sadness (see Haidt, 2003, for a review). For example, Decety et al. (2012) analysed
neurophysiological and behavioural reactions to harm-related scenarios that were either
accidental or intentionally-caused, finding that morally salient scenarios evoked stronger
empathic sadness (including enhanced activity in affective neurocircuitry such as the
amygdala); they concluded that negative affect ‘alerts the individual to the moral salience of a
situation by bringing discomfort and thus can serve as an antecedent to moral judgment
(p.209). Similar findings have likewise been obtained by Szekely and Miu (2015) and
Hardman (2015).
Sadness as Engendering Development
Connected to the notion that sadness (as a manifestation of compassion) can be indicative of
a moral sensibility is the idea that sadness can engender psychological development. In
Buddhism, for instance, compassion is not simply regarded as a fixed trait, but as a quality
that can be cultivated, for example through practices such as loving-kindness meditation
(Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008). In doing so, people are regarded as
developing psychologically and spiritually; one theory in this regard is that concern for others
helps people transcend their ‘ego’ (i.e., cease to be pre-occupied with their narrow self-
identity), thus lessening their egoistic self-concern (which is regarded in Buddhist psychology
as the origin of suffering) (Wilber, 2000).
Away from compassion, sadness has been seen to promote psychological growth in
other ways. There is an emergent literature, for instance, on Tedeschi and Calhoun’s (1996)
concept of posttraumatic growth (PTG), defined as ‘positive change that occurs as a result of
the struggle with highly challenging life crises’ (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004, p.1). With PTG,
people may experience positive changes in their life following trauma (even while still
suffering distress), including: increased personal strength, enhanced relationships (e.g., closer
and more appreciative), altered life philosophy (e.g., finding meaning in the trauma), changed
priorities (e.g., greater appreciation of life), and enhanced spirituality. PTG has been explored
in the context of grief, such as following bereavement (Neimeyer, Prigerson, & Davies,
2002). Studies here show that, even in the midst of sorrow, people may find that their grief
has changed their life in ways that can be valued, such as deepening their sense of spirituality
and/or religiosity (de Castella & Simmonds, 2013). The transformative power of sadness is
not limited to emotionally-charged phenomena such as PTG; for instance, Saffrey,
Summerville, and Roese (2008) found that regret is often valued by people (over other
negative emotions) as a beneficial learning opportunity.
Sadness as an Aesthetic Sensibility
In addition to sadness potentially reflecting a moral sensibility, it has also been explored as a
form of aesthetic sensitivity and refinement (Thoolen, Ridder, Bensing, Gorter, & Rutten,
2009). This notion has a long and distinguished pedigree, and has been particularly associated
with Romantic art and philosophy, as exemplified by poets like John Keats (Brady &
Haapala, 2003). Indeed, this type of melancholic aesthetic has proved culturally powerful at
times, as seen by the dramatic and indeed sometimes tragic impact of the publication of
Goethe’s Young Werther in 1774 (Thorson & Öberg, 2003). Likewise, Woolfolk (2002, p.23)
discusses how a melancholic aesthetic came to be revered in Japan as indicative of a refined
character, particularly during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), describing this as having the
sensitivity to be ‘touched or moved by the world… inextricably intertwined with a capacity to
experience the sadness and pathos that emanates from the transitory nature of things.’
More recently, empirical attention has been drawn to the question of why people
choose to engage with art that is sad, as attested to by the on-going popularity of melancholic
songs (Schellenberg & von Scheve, 2012). For instance, Wassiliwizky, Wagner, Jacobsen,
and Menninghaus (2015) investigated the phenomenon of art-elicited chills shivers down
the spine produced by endorphin bursts combined with a galvanic skin response (Panksepp &
Bernatzky, 2002) which they found arose from being ‘moved,’ a complex emotional state in
which sadness is almost experienced as being pleasurable. Indeed, sad music can often
invoke positive feelings (see Sachs, Damasio, and Habibi (2015) for a recent review), doing
so through processes including regulating negative emotions (e.g., ‘catharsis’), retrieving
valued memories, and inducing feelings of connectedness (Taruffi & Koelsch, 2014). Similar
analyses have likewise been conducted with sad literature (Oliver, 1993) and films (Hanich,
Wagner, Shah, Jacobsen, & Menninghaus, 2014).
Sadness as Integral to Fulfilment
The notion that people might actually seek out states of sadness (e.g., ‘being moved’) through
art leads to the final sub-theme here, the possibility that sadness may be an intrinsic part of a
fulfilling life. The rationale here is that flourishing an overarching term encompassing
various aspects of positive functioning, from hedonic pleasure to ‘eudaimonic’ meaning
(Huppert & So, 2013) does not just mean having positive emotions, but experiencing a
whole spectrum of human feelings (Lomas & Ivtzan, 2015). There are various arguments in
support of this contention. From an existentialist perspective, it has been argued that one has
not lived fully unless one has experienced both the highs and lows of life (Wong, 2012).
Indeed, from a dialectical philosophical perspective, it is only by experiencing lows that highs
have any substance and meaning, since happiness depends logically upon the existence and
experience of sadness (just as ‘up’ does not make sense without ‘down’).
Thus, flourishing itself can be seen as involving an ‘inevitable dialectics between
positive and negative aspects of living’ (Ryff & Singer, 2003, p.272). In this respect,
flourishing encompassing a spectrum of feelings, from sadness to joy might be regarded
as a ‘meta-emotion (Oliver, 1993). As Koopman (2015) elucidates, even if one’s primary
(i.e., most immediate) emotion is ostensibly negative (e.g., sadness), it is nevertheless
possible to have positive meta-emotions regarding this (e.g., appreciation). This is the type of
process that is occurring, Koopman suggests, when a person is greatly moved by a piece of
art, or similarly in other ostensibly sad experiences, like acts of remembrance, e.g., visiting
war memorials (Winter, 2015). In such experiences, sadness, far from being undesirable, let
alone a disorder, is seen as entirely appropriate, valuable, and an important part of being
This paper adds to an emergent literature which seeks to normalise states of low mood
referred to here using the overarching term sadness that fall short of clinical levels of
depression. It does so by not only emphasising sadness as common and universal, but by
suggesting that sadness may actually be useful and valuable, contributing towards a full and
flourishing life. In exploring the relevant literature, three main ‘virtues’ of sadness were
identified, each of which were further broken down into four ‘subtypes.’
First, the paper suggested that sadness can function as conferring forms of protection
upon a person, including: (a) as a warning (mental pain alerting one to harmful situations);
(b) prompting disengagement (detaching oneself from unattainable goals); (c) as a mode of
conservation (saving resources when vulnerable or depleted); and (d) as accuracy (increasing
the efficacy of one’s perception and judgement). Secondly, it was suggested that sadness can
be an expression of care, including as a manifestation of: (a) love (sadness being the way that
love manifests if its object is absent); (b) longing (when sadness intermingles with pleasure in
a desire for (re)union); (c) compassion (sadness arising out of concern for the suffering of
others); and (d) eliciting care (sadness evoking compassionate responses in other people).
Finally, the paper explored the possibility of sadness being integral to flourishing, including
as: (a) a moral sensibility (a sign of sensitivity); (b) engendering psychological development
(through shifting one’s locus of concern outwards to other people); (c) an aesthetic sensibility
(a coveted sense of aesthetic appreciation); and (d) integral to fulfilment (a necessary
component of living a full life).
In setting out these potential virtues of sadness, the paper has acknowledged that these
can potentially become maladaptive, for instance if prolonged or harnessed in a dysfunctional
way (Wakefield, 1992). In such instances, sadness has the potential to develop into more
problematic forms of clinical depression (Leventhal, 2008). However, while being alert to
these risks, it might still be argued that, for the majority of people, their experiences of
sadness are not merely mild forms of disorder, but rather are serving an important and even
desirable function in their lives. Moreover, with analyses such as this, the larger hope is that
cultural discourses around sadness may begin to change, and it may even be possible to foster
more positive ‘meta-emotions’ (Oliver, 1993) in relation to sadness. That is, even if people’s
primary subjective experience is dysphoric, they may yet be able to situate this negative
affect within a larger context of appreciation, and come to not only accept their feelings of
sadness, but even perhaps to value them.
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Cambridge University Press.
... In contemporary psychological science, sadness is conceptualized very close to its philosophical origins (Lomas, 2018). It is considered one the six basic emotions (i.e., anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness surprise; Ekman & Friesen, 1972), and it is considered a characteristics of sadness are the most unclear amongst those of the six basic emotions (Ekman, 1992a(Ekman, , 1992b(Ekman, , 1999; see also Collet, Vernet-Maury, Delhomme & Dittmar, 1997;Palomba, Sarlo, Angrilli, Mini & Stegagno 2000;Rainville, Bechara, Naqvi & Damasio, 2006;Vytal & Hamann, 2010;Saarimäki et al., 2018). ...
... We chose to explore the physiological and emotional characteristics of several emotional concepts: melancholy, loneliness, misery, bereavement and despair. We chose these emotional concepts because previous reviews have repeatedly, consistently and with emphasis prioritized them as potential rally points for further exploring sadness because they could functionally be associated with sadness and have distinguishable eliciting and physiological correlates (Brown, & Dutton, 1995;Bodenhausen, Gabriel & Lineberger, 2000;Allister, 2001;Hariri et al., 2002;Welling, 2003;Keedwell, 2008;Maj, 2008;Robinson & Demaree, 2009;Power, 2010;Diener et al., 2012;Sachs, Damasio & Habibi, 2015;Forgas, 2017;Reed & DeScioli, 2017;Shirai & Suzuki, 2017;Karnaze & Levine, 2018;Lomas, 2018;Barrett et al., 2019;Arias et al., 2020). ...
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Previous research on the physiological and eliciting correlates of sadness has provided controversial results. Sadness has been associated with failure, defeat, and positive cognitive changes, positive reappraisal, and also diverse physiological responses. This could be interpreted to suggest that different emotional states associated with prototypical sadness could be empirically distinguished. In the current set of studies, we explored this hypothesis. In a first stage, participants were asked to select sad emotional faces and scene stimuli either characterized or not by a single key sadness-related characteristic: loneliness, melancholy, misery, bereavement or despair. In a second stage, another set of participants was presented with the selected emotional faces and scene stimuli. They were assessed for differences in emotional, physiological and facial-expressive responses. The results showed that melancholy, misery, bereavement and despair provided empirical evidence for displaying dissociable physiological responses. Critical evidence, in a final stage, showed that a new set of participants could match eliciting emotional scenes to emotional faces characterized with the same label with close to perfect precision performance. These findings suggest that melancholy, misery, bereavement and despair are distinguishable emotional states associated with sadness.
... On the other hand, our results also confirm that competition gives rise to negative emotions of sadness and anxiety, in line with the results of Cheng et al. (2009). Sadness affects people's psychological state and is harmful to well-being (Lomas, 2018). Anxiety plays a negative role in continuance intention (Meng et al., 2021). ...
This study investigates the impact of psychological stimuli on students’ continuance intention to use massive open online courses (MOOCs), through the mediation effects of emotions under a stimulus-organism-response framework. Perceived competition, perceived risk, and curiosity are the psychological stimuli. Four emotions (happiness, interest, sadness, and anxiety), enjoyment, and stress are considered as the organism. Continuance intention to use MOOCs for learning is the response. To test the hypotheses empirically, 574 valid responses were collected from individuals who claimed that they had learning experience on the Chinese University MOOC. This is a well-known, official online learning platform supported by the Chinese Education Ministry and has the largest number of active MOOC users in China. The study employs partial least squares structural equation modeling to validate the research model. The results show that perceived competition has both positive and negative effects, perceived risk has no significant effect, curiosity only has a beneficial effect, and the four emotions play important mediation roles. This research unveils the internal effect mechanisms of psychological factors and emotions on continuance intention in the context of online learning.
... Similarly, even apart from grieving, Horwitz and Wakefield have argued against the medicalization of "regular" sadness, instead advocating regarding it as an inherent part of the human condition [44]. Going further, emergent literature suggests that negatively valenced emotions such as sadness can even be valued as integral to well-being [45]. For example, new work shows some people express preference for a "psychologically rich life," which involves diverse and complex experiences and emotions, including negatively valenced ones [46]. ...
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Our understanding of well-being, and related concepts such as health and flourishing, is shaped by the metaphors through which we think about such ideas. Current dominant metaphors—including a pyramid, ladder, and continuum—all have various issues. As such, this paper offers two other metaphors which can better do justice to the nuanced complexities of these notions, namely, a garden and an orchestra. Through these metaphors, this paper articulates a comprehensive framework for conceptualizing and appreciating the nature of well-being (and associated concepts), which it is hoped will generate further insights and research into these valued and sought-after phenomena.
... Unlike with fear and disgust however, with sadness the loss often has already occurred, and withdrawal is gradual rather than sudden. Withdrawal is believed to protect the bereft individual who likely has lost a current or future ally, and to help elicit support from others (Lomas, 2018). On the assumption that sadness functions to reduce the impact of a threatening factor (the loss of a relationship partner), SAT would predict that females would experience greater sadness than males. ...
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We extend Benenson et al.'s hypothesis from the individual level to the societal level. Because women have highly limited reproductive rates, societies have generally prioritized female survival and regarded males as expendable. We describe various lines of evidence that are consistent with this hypothesis, and we offer additional predictions about differential attitudes toward male versus female endangerment.
... Unlike with fear and disgust however, with sadness the loss often has already occurred, and withdrawal is gradual rather than sudden. Withdrawal is believed to protect the bereft individual who likely has lost a current or future ally, and to help elicit support from others (Lomas, 2018). On the assumption that sadness functions to reduce the impact of a threatening factor (the loss of a relationship partner), SAT would predict that females would experience greater sadness than males. ...
Extending Campbell's (1999) staying alive theory (SAT) beyond aggression, we reviewed evidence that females are more self-protective than males. Many commentators provided additional supporting data. Sex differences in life-history adaptations, in the optimal relation between survival and reproduction, and in the mechanisms underlying trade-offs involved with self-protection remain important topics with numerous opportunities for improved understanding.
... Unlike with fear and disgust however, with sadness the loss often has already occurred, and withdrawal is gradual rather than sudden. Withdrawal is believed to protect the bereft individual who likely has lost a current or future ally, and to help elicit support from others (Lomas, 2018). On the assumption that sadness functions to reduce the impact of a threatening factor (the loss of a relationship partner), SAT would predict that females would experience greater sadness than males. ...
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The target article presented a plausible argument that females' susceptibility to threats might be self-protection for staying alive, but some evidence requires scrutiny. We need to consider (1) the biases of narrative reviews, (2) subjective life quality, and (3) the shadow side of extreme reactions to threats before concluding that females' threat-based response is a self-protection mechanism that promotes survival.
... Así los adultos mayores pueden desplegar un efecto de positividad para regular el estado de tristeza (Demeyer et al., 2017). Es importante señalar que la tristeza no sólo es normal, sino que puede tener un valor protector o ser vista como un modo de protección, de cuidado o parte integral de la realización (Lomas, 2018). ...
... 4). In contrast, attending to negatively valenced affect-whatLomas (2018Lomas ( , 2019 has called the virtues of anger and sadness-can enhance adaptation and well-being over time. Affective neuroscience research elucidates the adaptive evolutionary functions of rage, fear, and sadness(Panksepp & Biven, 2012), a keen reminder that all emotions lend important insight into our desires and needs and thereby can help motivate action. ...
We live in times when our culture is obsessed with happiness. The value of almost every aspect of our lives is increasingly judged in terms of their contribution to our happiness. Happiness has become the ultimate goal by which values and priorities are constructed and the only thing for which any action in pursuit of does not require justification. In contrast, sadness is increasingly abnormalized and pathologized. In this paper, an effort is made to counteract the narrative that sadness, a critical aspect of human life is abnormal or a pathological condition. The evolutionary benefits of sadness and its place in human flourishing are discussed. A rebranding of sadness is proposed that emphasizes the free expression of sadness in everyday greetings to remove it from its current negative state and promote many of its benefits including post-traumatic growth and resilience.
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For a long time, well-being research had been driven from a Western perspective with a neglect of cultural and contextual variables. In this chapter we argue with reference to well-being research as manifested in positive psychology (PP) as a discipline, that contextual, metatheoretical and metadisciplinary perspectives need to be taken into account. Developments in PP over time are described, illustrating the importance of contexts and assumptions in understanding well-being, and how new assumptions in the third wave of PP resonate with old African wisdoms about interconnectedness as a core value in human lives. The first wave of PP focused on advocating for the positive in human functioning, many facets of well-being were differentiated in theory and empirical studies, while assuming a naturalist worldview and that findings from the West are globally applicable. The second wave showed that PP needs to take context, culture and negative facets of human life into account for understanding the nature and dynamics of well-being. The emerging third wave of PP is characterized by the acceptance of a strong relational ontology and trends towards contextualization, interconnectedness and post-disciplinarity. Harmonizing Western and African perspectives are indicated, and specifically also the understanding of well-being as harmony and harmonization. The third wave suggests a move to “well-being studies”, instead of the disciplinary bound “positive psychology studies”—a butterfly leaving its cocoon.
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The notion of spirituality is increasingly prominent in academic and cultural discourse alike. However, it remains a nebulous concept, capable of diverse interpretations, particularly cross-culturally. In the interest of exploring this diversity, yet also with the aim of identifying common themes, an enquiry was conducted into conceptualizations of spirituality across cultures. Specifically, the enquiry focused on so-called untranslatable words, i.e., which lack an exact equivalent in another language (in this case, English). Through a quasi-systematic search, together with conceptual snowballing, over 200 relevant terms were located. A grounded theory analysis identified three key dimensions: the sacred, contemplative practice, and self-transcendence. Based on these, a conceptualization of spirituality was formulated that may be valid cross-culturally, namely: engagement with the sacred, usually through contemplative practice, with the ultimate aim of self-transcendence.
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Linguists have often remarked upon the polysemous nature of love, whereby the term encompasses a wide diversity of emotional relationships. Several typologies have been constructed to account for this diversity. However, these tend to be restricted in scope, and fail to fully represent the range of experiences signified by the term ‘love’ in discourse. In the interest of generating an expanded typology of love, encompassing its varied forms, an enquiry was conducted into relevant concepts found across the world's cultures, focusing on so-called untranslatable words. Through a quasi-systematic search of published and internet sources, 609 relevant words were identified. These were organised through a version of grounded theory into 14 categories, representing 14 different forms or ‘flavours’ of love. The result is an expanded theoretical treatment of love, allowing us to better appreciate the nuances of this most cherished and yet polysemous of concepts.
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Although wellbeing tends to be associated with positive affect, theorists have suggested it might also involve more ambivalent emotions. Scholars have further argued that although such emotions are somewhat overlooked in Western societies, other cultures are more attuned to them. In the interest of exploring the value of ambivalent emotions, an enquiry was conducted into relevant concepts found across the world’s cultures, focusing specifically on so-called untranslatable words. Through a quasi-systematic search of academic and grey literature, together with conceptual snowballing, 30 relevant terms were located. A process of grounded theory analysis identified five main themes: hope, longing, pathos, appreciation of imperfection, and sensitivity to mystery. The analysis highlights the need for a more expansive conception of wellbeing, going beyond an exclusive identification with positively valenced emotions to incorporate more complex and ambivalent processes.
In this chapter I attempt to integrate the ideas presented in previous chapters into a coping conceptualization of human LH. First I elaborate on the coping process that underlies LH effects, the direct and indirect antecedents of these effects, and the mediational sequences that go from helplessness training to performance changes. Then I deal with the psychological meanings of reactance and LH deficits and elaborate on their functional and dysfunctional aspects as well as on their generalization over time and across situations.
Psychologists are increasingly interested in the topic of eudaimonia, a term adopted from ancient Greek philosophers (with most modern views traceable to Aristotle), referring to human flourishing. Conceptual confusion remains because investigators generally have not clarified how and why they have appropriated Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia. This chapter presents a close interpretation of Aristotle’s view and explores continuities and discontinuities in psychologists’ application of this original concept to provide a theoretical baseline and increase conceptual clarity. Eudaimonia is explored as an ethical concept referring to the best kind of life, which is an outgrowth of humans’ natural endowments. Eudaimonia is a form of activity (that includes subjective experience, but is not limited to it), comprised by the pursuit of ends that are choiceworthy for human beings. Eudaimonia is a unified way of life, but it has multiple constituents (e.g., belonging, justice, and social harmony). Eudaimonia is related to, but distinct from pleasure (hedonia). Human flourishing is a matter of a complete life that encompasses virtue or excellence, and Aristotle saw it as the ultimate aim of human life. The chapter concludes with several major challenges for eudaimonia researchers.