Thinking of Sadness As a Person May Help You Cope With Sorrow

This is why anthropomorphizing sadness brings us solace.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
February 21, 2020

People have a lot of different strategies for dealing with sadness, including confiding in a friend, eating comfort foods, or looking at pictures that remind them of better times. But, recently, the Journal of Consumer Psychology published a study demonstrating the effectiveness of a new technique to help people suffering from sadness: anthropomorphizing the emotion.

Inspired by the Pixar movie “Inside Out,” the scholars behind the research wanted to learn more about whether anthropomorphizing sadness — thinking about it as a person — could help people cope. To test their hypothesis, they had two groups of participants write about a time in their life when they were very sad. Then, they had one group write about what sadness would look like if it came to life as a person, while the second group wrote about sadness in terms of its emotional and affective impact. 

The group that anthropomorphized sadness described it in ways like, “a little girl walking slowly with her head down,” “a pale person with no smile,” or “someone with grey hair and sunken eyes,” according to study author Li Yang of the University of Texas at Austin. By doing this, “people start to think of an emotion as a person who is separate from themselves, which makes them feel more detached from the sadness,” she said in a statement

Next, the researchers wanted to test whether thinking about happiness as a person would have a similar effect. It did: Those who anthropomorphized the emotion experienced lower levels of happiness. “It’s probably not wise to apply this strategy for positive emotions because we do not want to minimize these good feelings,” Yang said.

So the next time you’re experiencing sadness, try thinking about it as a person as a way to help regulate, and even dissipate, the emotion. “Activating this mindset is a way to help people feel better and resist temptations that may not benefit them in the long-term,” Yang noted.

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticRolling StoneCNNFodor’sLifehackerReader’s Digest and Playboy.


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This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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