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Mindful : April 2016
Moods are fleeting, volatile. They come and go at the drop of a hat. But beneath the surface, research suggests, they serve a deeper purpose. Compared to powerful influences on how we think and act—such as per- sonality, character, values, principles, and emotional style—mood might seem a little wimpy. It feels shifty, evanescent, transitor y—no more enduring than a bank of fog. Upbeat people can descend into a sad mood and cranky ones can experience a joy- ous one, but in both cases it will pass, leaving no more trace than that fog in the morning sun. A burgeoning science of mood is here to disabuse you of that belief (and perhaps give solace to those with mood disorders who find the effects of their moods anything but wimpy). Not only can moods, even ones that are at odds with our typical emo- tional state, leave lasting imprints on our mental and physical health; they also influence how we perceive the world and learn from experience—a function that, new research suggests, may explain the mystery of why we even have moods and why we don’t always want to immediately shake off negative ones. When people feel down, they don’t necessarily want to cheer up right away, as the seeming paradox of Feeling Moody? Here’s Why. sadness and sad music shows: Most of us aim for happiness (whatever our personal definition of that), yet when feeling down we swipe through our iTunes downloads for a most heart- string-tugging tune (Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”? Itzhak Perlman’s rendition of the theme from Schin- dler’s List?). Researchers at Ireland’s University of Limerick asked scores of people why they did so. One reason was a desire for connec- tion, for a sense that someone else (the composer, other listeners) had experi- enced grief such as theirs—a realiza- tion that keeps a sad mood from feeling isolating. Other participants in the 2013 study, published in Psychology of Music, said they “wanted to stay with → Sharon Begley is senior science writer with The Boston Globe Media Group, author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, and coauthor with Richard Davidson of The Emotional Life of Your Brain. 20 mindful April 2016 brain science Illustration by Sébastien Thibault