Myopic Misery: How Sadness Affects Thinking & Decision-making

Myopic Misery in a Nutshell: Sadness and impatience leads to myopic misery, a tendency to seek immediate gains even if that means suffering long-term losses.

Our moods can strongly influence our thinking, including creativity, problem solving, and decision-making. It is especially important to avoid making important decisions when you’re sad, especially if these decisions are financial.

Sad people make financially unwise decisions because they are more swayed by immediate gains, even if that means suffering long-term losses. So for example, sad people prefer less money now than substantially more money later. This is the finding of a 2013 study by Jennifer Lerner, Ye Li, and Elke Weber.[1] The researchers call this phenomenon myopic misery.

Sadness leads to myopic misery because of impatience: people seek immediate rewards to replace that which was lost. Thus, sad and impatient people will prefer immediate but smaller rewards to more distant but larger rewards. Previous studies likewise found that sad people prefer high-reward and high-risk to low-reward and low-risk choices.[2]


[1] Jennifer S. Lerner, Ye Li , and Elke U. Weber, The Financial Cost of Sadness, Psychological Science, 24, 72–79 (2013).

[2] Rajagopal Raghunathan and Michel Tuan Pham, All Negative Moods Are Not Equal: Motivational Influences of Anxiety and Sadness on Decision Making, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 79, 56-77 (1999).