Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

The Longest Lasting Emotion and 4 Proven Ways to Loosen its Grip

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Some emotions burst onto the scene and disappear just as quickly. Others stay for longer, as though there’s no place else for them to be.

In a recent study, researchers looked at 27 different emotions and gained fascinating insight into the average amount of time each emotion tends to stay.

Sadness is the longest lasting of all emotions taking on average 120 hours to pass. 

Hatred is the second most enduring emotion followed by joy which lasts an average of 35 hours.

Guilt lingers longer than the hot burn of shame; and fear tends to pass fairly quickly compared to anxiety which generally lasts much longer.

The stay-around power of sadness is likely due to its tendency to be associated with events that have a major long-term impact on people’s lives, such as bereavement.

The study, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, found the reason some emotions stay around for longer than others is because of rumination – the tendency to replay or think about negative things over and over.

As explained by researcher Saskia Lavrijsen, ‘Rumination is the central determinant of why some emotions last longer than others.’

How to stop thinking the same thoughts over and over and…

Rumination is a proven risk factor for depression so seriously … ya’ gotta stop it. It’s not easy – I know – but here are four proven ways to stop rumination running away with your head.

  1. Exercise

    Physical activity interrupts negative thinking and reframes the way you look at things. This has been proven over and over and then a bit more.

  2. Mindfulness

    Bring yourself back to the moment (as opposed to thinking about the past or the future) by paying attention to what you hear, feel, smell, see and taste. This is about being present in the now. It’s important because it’s the only place we have any power.

  3. Worst case scenario

    This may sound counter-intuitive but stay with me … Think about the worst case scenario and ask yourself if you can handle it. This takes the steam out of the original thought that’s made itself at home in your head. Humans are resilient creatures and it’s likely that although the worst case scenario won’t have you pulling your ‘bring it on then,’ face, whatever it is you’ll be able to handle it. 

  4. Pencil in a worry break.

    Kinda like a date, but nowhere near the fun. Set aside a period of time each day, say 20 minutes, where you can go hard with your worrying. Worry it up like crazy. Worry about everything that’s been hassling you for attention. Then, at the end of your scheduled break – stop. When something starts clanging around the inside of your skull, remind yourself that you’ve made time later to deal with whatever it it. This works. Just try it.

What does it mean for relationships?

This finding gives fuel to the importance of being emotionally responsible with those we love (not to be confused with being emotionally responsible for them).

There’s a lot said around the idea that nobody can ‘make you sad/angry/ashamed …’, and for the most part, this is true. However in terms of intimate relationships, it’s something that has always sat uneasy with me. Let me tell you why.

Part of being intimate with another person involves dropping the walls, clearing the way for them to be closer to you than you would allow anyone else. This is intimacy – honest, generous, open, vulnerable, sometimes messy and when it’s at its best, phenomenal. 

When this is handled with love and respect, the relationship will be tight, strong and safe. When it’s not, it can be excruciating, perhaps bland, maybe lonely.

Knowing what we know now about the length of time sadness takes to pass, it’s clear how regular fighting, disrespect, nastiness or  indifference from one towards the other can kill a relationship and dampen a person. In stingy or hurtful relationships sadness will build on sadness. It’s why it’s critical to choose wisely who we love and who we open ourselves up to – or for how long we stay open to them.

Emotions are there for a reason … So listen.

All emotions serve a purpose. Sadness, for example, might alert us to a situation that requires change. It also has a protective function, a type of ‘time-out’ to allow for healing, reflection, or adjustment to new or overwhelming circumstances. Sadness signals to others that support might be needed, particularly as ‘Hey. I need you,’ isn’t something that tends to always flow easily from us humans.

Too much of anything though is never a good thing. Being mindful of an emotion becoming too consuming is the best fight against it taking you somewhere – like depression or illness – that’s harder to come back from.

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