Here’s why you experience volatile mood swings

  • People who engage in diverse daily activities experience more emotions, according to a new study.
  • Seniors tend to exhibit fewer emotions than middle-aged folks.
  • There is a great range of negative emotions, including anger, sadness, and shame.

The busier you are, in general, the more likely you experience many emotions throughout the day. According to a new study, this can actually make you a more evolved person.

Embrace your Debbie Downer side

Whether it’s going to work each day and coming home to children, or spending a crazy amount of leisure time on your fantasy football team, a busy schedule can feel like a roller-coaster ride of positive and negative emotions.

Researchers from the University of South Florida recently published a study in The Journals of Gerontology that should give anyone labeled a “Debbie Downer” a sigh of relief: Yes, it’s OK to be negative, sometimes.

“Experiencing a broad spectrum of emotions is adaptive and beneficial to health because it means having a more balanced and nuanced appraisal of daily life,” Soomi Lee, assistant professor of aging studies at the University of South Florida, said in a press release.

“For example, even for negative emotions, feeling intense anger across situations may mean that the individual has a narrow appraisal of situations, whereas feeling a mix of anger, sadness and shame may indicate a broader and more nuanced appraisal.”

Researchers reviewed data from nearly 3,000 middle-aged participants and looked at the time they spent in seven activities: paid work, being with kids, chores, leisure, exercise, volunteering, and helping around the house. Each participant was asked to log activity over the course of eight days, in addition to how they reacted emotionally, both positive and negative.

Gauging emodiversity

The researchers were measuring emodiversity, a term used to describe different emotions. Positive emotions include cheerful, in good spirits, extremely happy, calm and peaceful, satisfied, full of life, enthusiastic, attentive, proud, active, close to others, belonging, and confident.

There are also 14 negative emotions: worthlessness, nervous, restless or fidgety, hopeless, afraid, jittery, irritable, ashamed, upset, lonely, angry, frustrated, feeling that everything is an effort, and so sad that nothing could cheer you up.

The study found that people who had a broad range of activities experienced diverse emotional experiences, both positive and negative. People between ages 33 and 44, in particular, had more diverse positive emotions compared to adults 68 and older.

What this says about older people

Is this to say older people are miserable? Not necessarily. Researchers said that younger adults expressed stronger emotions than older adults because they have more diverse activities, meaning they are involved more with children and work, which decreases over time.

Additionally, older adults possess more wisdom and they tend to avoid situations in society that could elicit negativity. It’s worth noting that the amount of time spent participating in activities doesn’t result in positive or negative emodiversity.

While negative-minded employees often get labeled as rude or not as passionate about their work, this could be a function of their age — or maybe they’re just wiser than the rest of us.