Sad to say, I’m happy

Here it is, one of the coldest and darkest Mondays of the year, statistically speaking, and sad to say, I’m happy. Happy is bad, at least where writing is concerned, according to research by University of New South Wales Psychology Professor Joe Forgas, as reported by Mark Peters in Wordtastic.

Forgas assigned his research subjects to watch either a comedy or a film on cancer. Then they were asked to write persuasively. As Peters reports, “In all cases, the sad folks produced arguments that were more concrete and therefore more persuasive than the happy campers.”

According to Forgas, mildly negative moods inspire us to pay more attention to detail. “A negative mood is like an alarm signal,” Forgas tells Peters, “indicating that the situation is problematic, and requires more attentive, careful and vigilant processing — hence the greater attention to concrete information.”

I’ve troubled myself over this phenonmenon before, reading research summaries of the disproportionate number of successful writers who are clinically depressed. Sadly, I don’t trend toward depression. I have my share of ups and downs, and I’ve had my gut-wrenching, soul-searching days, but overall I suffer from an infernal tendency to look on the bright side. Even in December. In Alaska.

Should I try to dial back my happy meter and wallow in all that’s wrong with my life? Forgas says it’s not that easy, contending that if it were, we’d be all happy, all the time. Except, of course, for writers. We have an excuse. Especially happy writers like me, who have little hope of achieving the mood we need to be good.

There. I’m feeling sadder already.

9 thoughts on “Sad to say, I’m happy”

  1. Huh — I wonder if that applies to "mad" as well. It's a "mildly negative mood," alright. And often a perfect starting point for the environmentally-inclined ("nature"?) writer. Raw nerve endings have been one of my best writing tools. Who needs Bambi-in-a-pasture stuff?

  2. This is why I like to edit my work when I am feeling ornery. It is very satisfying to take the novel which I was in love with this morning and pick it up again when I am in a suffer-no-fools mood. I am ruthless with the work then, and it's all for the best.

  3. Ornery, angry – I think those would be in the sweep of the Forgas findings. Evidently we pay more attention when we're upset – and that stands to reason, from an evolutionary perspective. It might also explain the adage about love being blind.

  4. Deb, You made my day. (Don't worry — you didn't 'make it' TOO MUCH for my own good.) I recently finished a manuscript revision and need to sweep through it another time but I've been too cranky to take a look at it. Now I know this might be the perfect time!

    As for your own surplus-happiness problem, here are my recommendations:
    1) re-read some of your favorite literary works. Great books never fail to remind all of us how far we have to go and how unlikely it is we'll ever get there.

    2) read Poets & Writers magazine, which inevitably features adorable photos of writers in their 20s and early 30s who are doing brilliantly! (While looking good in their jeans.)

    3) read or watch Michael Cunningham's "The Hours" to remember the sufferings of depressed Virginia Woolf (which takes us back to suggestion #1).

    Rinse and repeat.

  5. Andromeda–so true about Poets & Writers! Thanks for the laugh. Both of you cheered me right up out of a Monday black mood. Guess I'll go pick some metaphorical daisies instead of writing poems. 🙂

  6. If writing improves when the composer is sad

    How bad can it get when the author is glad?

    Can a great novel emerge when the writer is depressed?

    Or is it just garbage if she feels cheerful and blessed?

    What kind of writing will gloom produce?

    Organized and tight? Or sloppy and loose?

    If Deb continues to be joyful and happy

    I just don't think that her products will be sappy

    Now it is obvious and true that when I am amused

    I admit that my rhymes are atrociously abused

    Would my verses be better if I pouted and cried

    Over my rejected ode to a salmon that died?

    From the anonymous author of "Oh, dear deceased Chum"

  7. Just wanted to chip in with a piece of Hemingway advice: "Write hard and clear about what hurts."

    I drink to that, Papa!

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