"He that increaseth wisdom, increaseth sorrow."
- Robert Burton
There is a controversial term in psychology, depressive realism, which refers to the hypothesis that depressed people have a more realistic view of the world. It has been backed up by a wide array of experiments.
Other research has showed that putting people in "negative moods" actually boosts their memory. The people in negative moods pay more attention and deliberate more carefully. In the experiment, the people in negative moods were able to detect lies more readily and were less racist.
Aristotle believed that creativity was spurred on by melancholy; great poets, artists and philosophers, he said, all had a bit of the melancholic spirit, which he believed to be caused by an excess of black bile (melan choler). His tutor and mentor Plato, and Plato's tutor and mentor, Socrates, were afflicted by melancholy. Seneca, the great Stoic philosopher, quoted Aristotle on this and took it one step further, saying, "There is no genius without some touch of madness."
During the renaissance, a highly influential work, "The Anatomy of Melancholy," by Robert Burton, revived interest in melancholy. A "Cult of Melancholy," in England, as well as a parallel movement, Sturm und Drang, in Germany, arose soon after. Many of the works of Keats, Mozart, and Wagner are products of this period.
Certain psychologists believe that negative thinking and sadness are adaptive. Sadness causes people to be introspective and solve problems: they are more attentive to their surroundings, less influenced by quick, positive emotions, and more focused on the facts. Sadness, according to them, should not be avoided, but used.
Albrecht Durer, the famous German Renaissance artist, has a much debated piece, Melencholia I, which depicts a sad women in the grips of "melancholia imaginativa," or melancholy of the imagination, which is brought on when an artist is waiting for inspiration to strike.
Sadness, according to the most remarkable people over the past two thousand years, appears to be the price we pay to solve problems, make insights and discoveries, and create art.
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