Does Society Make People Feel Bad About Feeling Sad?

According to a new study, certain cultures actually make people feel worse about feeling bad. Researchers at the University of Queensland, the University of Leuven, the University of Melbourne, and Kyoto University, collaborated to determine if society can exacerbate negative feelings. “We argue that when people believe that others expect them not to feel certain kinds of emotion, this perceived social pressure leads them to experience those unwanted emotions more frequently and more intensely,” said the team. “Specifically, we focus on the belief that others expect us not to feel negative emotions such as sadness or anxiety.”

The authors noted that popular culture and television in particular, stress the importance of happiness. “Meanwhile, commonplace emotional experiences such as sadness, depression, or anxiety are pathologized and medicalized, viewed as deviant from the desired norm,” they said. In four separate studies, involving participants from Australia and Eastern Asia, the researchers discovered that people from Western cultures experience an increase in negative feelings when they feel bad. “However, the importance placed on happiness and the devaluation of sadness is not as apparent in Asian cultures,” said the researchers. “In Japan, acceptance, emotional balance, and even hardship are highly valued, and the pursuit of happiness often has ‘immoral’ connotations.” The study looked at personal and social expectancies, focusing on both positive and negative emotions. They said, “Across four studies, we found evidence that perceived social expectations not to feel negative emotions are associated with more negative emotion and lower well-being.”

The researchers believe their findings are important for overall mental health and sense of life satisfaction. They said, “This finding highlights the potentially harmful effects of perceived social expectations for emotional experience. When social norms place pressure on people not to experience negative emotion, people react to these perceived norms with increased negative emotional responding.” They concluded by saying, “Our work shows that the more people hold beliefs that others expect them not to experience negative emotions, the more frequently and intensely they are likely to experience those negative emotions. Such ironic effects also relate to indicators of well-being, such as satisfaction with life and depression.”

Reference:
Bastian, B., Kuppens, P., Hornsey, M. J., Park, J., Koval, P., & Uchida, Y. (2011, July 25). Feeling Bad About Being Sad: The Role of Social Expectancies in Amplifying Negative Mood. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024755

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Lynne

    Lynne

    August 4th, 2011 at 2:29 PM

    Sure there is a caertain pressure to feel good and be up and to be happy, but shouldn;t you be? Why waste all of that negative energy feeling bad when you could spend it in a positive way and try feeling good for a change? Sometimes just saying that you are going to make a change and feel better can make a whole lot of difference, and besides I would much rather be with someone who is willing to at least try to be happy than I am being around someone who is so down in the dumps all of the time.

  • LL

    LL

    February 16th, 2018 at 9:14 AM

    Clearly you lost the point of the article.

  • Bryan

    Bryan

    August 4th, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    I don’t quite agree with this.No matter which part of the world u love in,if you have friends and family around you that are there to help u in tines of trouble and distress then it becomes easier.and no culture teaches people to ill treat someone who is sad.

    The study’s findings about Asians being more open to sadness might be true but not because of they are in Asia but because the family structure there is different from the west.that might be the reason.

  • Harold

    Harold

    August 5th, 2011 at 4:30 AM

    Oh who really gives a rip what other people think that you should be feeling? They have not walked in your shoes, so if you are down then go ahead and have a down kind of day.

  • ned

    ned

    August 5th, 2011 at 11:46 PM

    if people around you cannot understand your problem they’re not your friends simple.and it’s not like EVERYBODY would make it hard to be sad.Maybe the only times this can happen is when there s somethin like Valentines day and you have just broken up or something like that.And blaming culture for this would not be right.

  • Sean Dent

    Sean Dent

    August 7th, 2011 at 11:51 AM

    I most certainly think it does. We’re always being told to grow up, quit complaining, and to grow a pair whenever we are upset or highly offended about something. You can’t show any emotion these days without at least one person judging you for it.

  • Lawrence Campos

    Lawrence Campos

    August 7th, 2011 at 1:25 PM

    @Sean Dent: I think it might be a fairly modern phenomenon. If someone is upset by what’s perceived by others as a minor event, so be it. Yes, others might laugh at them and tell them not to be so touchy.

    So what? What they don’t realize is that we all have different belief systems about what is or isn’t offensive or upsetting. You can’t say to them you shouldn’t be upset because it’s a feeling and they can’t help how they feel.

  • RaBbit

    RaBbit

    August 7th, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    Yes, society does play a role. But a healthy family and friends’ support system can turn things around for you. I have experienced this and can say it in certain terms.

  • Center

    Center

    August 8th, 2011 at 6:23 AM

    There certainly does seem to be some stigma around admitting to being sad or depressed, at least in Western society. Television and print media urge us to be happy no matter what and if you are not–take a pill or buy something! Very interesting article

  • Hugh Roth

    Hugh Roth

    August 9th, 2011 at 10:26 PM

    I’d be more wary of the person who didn’t show any negative emotions than the ones who did. They are giving themselves an outlet for that when they cry or yell or whatever. It’s natural to do so. I feel the stone cold unemotional types that are always in control of their emotions are more dangerous to be around.

  • J.V.

    J.V.

    August 9th, 2011 at 11:57 PM

    I’m not sure if society does make people feel bad for having negative emotions. Some uninformed folks might think that those who are depressed and such are just acting up for attention, but the majority understand that it’s a very debilitating condition that needs serious attention.

    I’m happy to say I experienced an outpouring of support and kindness from friends and neighbors when I was dx’d with severe depression. It renewed my faith in human nature.

  • N eli

    N eli

    August 10th, 2011 at 2:50 AM

    I agree, negative emotions are distressing for others too. that´s why some people tend to not accept negative feelings of others and even of themselves. However, good and bad moments are part of life, as well as feeling happy or upset.

  • T

    T

    October 6th, 2014 at 7:21 PM

    Yes, why waste your time being unhappy when you can be happy? People that think this way either lack compassion or have never really experienced anything bad. Don’t you think unhappy people want to be happy? Unbelievable. Depression is real, and it is not just a case of the boo-hoos that most people rightly get after break-ups and job loss. The comments here only strengthen the thesis of the article.

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