Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity. - Carl Jung
All emotions are important, and all have a purpose. However, many of us tend to be uncomfortable with sadness, which we view as an unpleasant experience that should be avoided at any cost.
When we’re feeling blue, we frequently reach for something to take the sadness away, which all too often is drugs, alcohol, food, pornography or even Internet games or smart phones.
It’s helpful to cultivate a positive attitude, but it’s just as important to recognize and embrace sad feelings. All too often, attempts to fight sadness ultimately lead to depression, hopelessness, anger, anxiety or despair.
Attempting to self-medicate sadness and other negative emotions with drugs and alcohol frequently leads to addiction and subsequently, a stay in drug and alcohol treatment or rehab. Often, it takes skilled counseling or therapy to help us reconnect with long-buried emotions – including sadness.
Sadness: Part of the Human Condition
Trying to eliminate sadness really doesn’t work because sadness is not a sign of weakness or vulnerability, but simply part of being human. Emotions are closely connected, and feelings of sadness can clear the path for feelings of happiness. Without experiencing sadness, how can we learn to appreciate feelings of joy and pleasure?
American comedian Louis C.K. puts it this way: “Life is tremendously sad just by being in it.” He says that it’s best to just to “let the sadness hit you like a truck; if you push it away, then you’ll never be able to feel completely sad or completely happy.”
The Benefits of Sadness
Author and meditation teacher Susan Piver says that sadness gives rise to our natural desire to help other people. It’s good, she says, when we are able see the sadness in the world. It provides critical insight and helps us see more clearly. As a result, we are able to be less judgmental and more compassionate and generous towards other people.
Sadness may be difficult, she says, but it’s only through sadness that we learn to feel truly alive.
Is it Sadness or Depression?
It’s important to differentiate between sadness and depression. Sadness is a normal, human emotion that we all experience from time to time. Unlike depression, sadness isn’t constant. Feelings of sadness pass, usually relatively quickly.
On the other hand, depression is a serious, life-altering illness that affects our behavior, thinking, and overall wellbeing. Depression is chronic and debilitating, draining our energy and sapping our motivation.
Getting in Touch with Sadness
Every emotion has an important role to play, and all should be embraced. While it’s good to cultivate happiness and positivity, remember that sadness is there for a reason and shouldn’t be automatically pushed away or avoided.
Piver says meditation can help us relax into the sadness and experience the discomfort instead of attempting to avoid it or force the feelings into something different. She also notes that while sadness is difficult, it is the best time to turn to activities that benefit others, such as charitable work, activism, prayer, art, or simply basic human kindness in our daily lives.
Many people get in touch with feelings of sadness by occasionally listening to sad music, reading sad books or watching sad movies. However, while feelings of sadness are normal and healthy, it’s important not to wallow in sadness or self-pity, which can lead to full-blown depression.
Be sure to seek help if your feelings of sadness don’t pass or if you feel overwhelmed or out of control. If you use drugs, alcohol or destructive behavior to cope with sadness, drug and alcohol treatment or rehab may help.