Why Does Misery Love Company?
We’re all familiar with the phrase ‘misery loves company’, a proverb which can be found in one form or another around the world. In times of sorrow, heartbreak and loss, humans often crave to be around other people. More to the point, they want to be around other people who feel the same way. But why? What is the psychology behind this desire and is it actually healthy?
Firstly, when you’re feeling down, the last thing you want to see is a group of happy people enjoying life. Many people when they’re upset react negatively to seeing others who are cheerful and instead seek to surround themselves with people who are also sad. In the case of a bereavement, for example, family members can provide a source of comfort to one another because they are all experiencing similar emotions and sadness. These people can offer much needed emotional and social support which few other people can, even your closest friends.
There are other examples of when this saying holds true. If you don’t like your job, for example, it can be really hard to be friends with people who love what they are doing. In an ideal world, of course, we would all enjoy our work but in reality this isn’t the case. The daily grind in an unfulfilling, boring and arduous job can feel even worse when compared to your friends’ dream positions. It’s easier, therefore, to be friends with people who also don’t enjoy their work. It can also negatively impact friendships if you are constantly complaining about your job to someone who doesn’t understand how you feel. You can be seen as whining and complaining about something that, in theory, you could change. Many people who are doing what they love often tell others to go and seize their own dreams. But some of us know life isn’t always so simple.
While misery seems to enjoy company, company generally doesn’t enjoy misery. We all know what it’s like when someone in a bad, sad mood brings everyone down with them. It can be hard to have a good time when someone is upset or going through a rough patch in their lives. Does it make us selfish that we don’t want to be around these people? Perhaps. But it also makes us human. If we want to have fun, we naturally want to be surrounded by like-minded people, otherwise the fun won’t be happening. This is yet another reason why misery likes miserable company rather than happy company. The last thing you want when you’re feeling down is to feel unwelcome in the group. At least with others who are upset, you know you’re not making them feel worse.
Feeling sad is a horrible human emotion and one that everyone experiences at times throughout their lives. Some people may have more occasions to be sad than others. Some may recover from loss or depression faster. However, you deal with it personally, the important part is that you’re not alone. Societies are often reluctant to express negative emotions in public and this can make people feel isolated and lonely in difficult times. Being around people who are also sad makes us feel more accepting of our feelings, therefore enabling us to properly process and come to terms with the emotions.
A study by psychologists from Harvard Medical School, Kobe University and Tufts University identified the impact of sad emotions on social behaviours. Not only are we innately more likely to crave social involvement and activities but we are also more in-tune with the emotions of others. We pick up clues from body language, tone of voice and other expressions of emotions more acutely when we are sad, perhaps making us more compassionate towards other sad people. This can help us build stronger friendships and relationships during difficult times because we are more capable of understanding one another. So perhaps sadness isn’t always such a bad mood to be in. Although it is not a pleasant emotion to experience, it can lead to something good in the form of strengthened social bonds.
But this is a blog which is supposed to be about happiness right? Well, life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. At times, it can be pretty unpleasant. When you’re going through something and it seems like the world will never be a good place again, turn to others who are going through something similar. Make new connections, strengthen existing ones. Rely on one another to carry you through these difficult times and, eventually, out the other side. If you know someone who’s going through something right now, maybe you could be there for them. Although misery prefers the company of misery, everyone likes to know their friends are supportive, even if they can’t relate personally in the moment. Social networks become invaluable at times like these and listening to a sad friend is one hell of a selfless good deed.
Go, do, experience. More Good Deeds.