We all feel sad sometimes. Sadness is a normal emotion that can make life more interesting. Much art and poetry is inspired by sadness and melancholy. Sadness almost always accompanies loss. I have written several poems following the loss of a girlfriend. When we say goodbye to a loved one we usually feel sad. The sadness is even deeper if a close relationship has ended or a loved one has died. Sadness also helps us appreciate happiness. When our mood eventually changes from sadness toward happiness, the sense of contrast adds to the enjoyment of the mood.
There are ways to experience normal sadness in a healthy manner and to allow this emotion to enrich your life. Allow yourself to be sad. Denying such feelings may force them underground, where they can do more damage with time. Cry if you feel like it. Notice if you feel relief after the tears stop. If you are feeling sad, plan a sadness day. Plan a day or evening just to be alone, listen to melancholy music, and to observe your thoughts and feelings. Planning time to be unhappy can actually feel good. It can help you ultimately move into a happier mood. Think about the context of the sad feelings. Are they related to a loss or an unhappy event? It’s usually not as simple as discovering the “cause” of the sadness, but it may be possible to understand factors involved.
Sadness can result from a change that you didn’t expect, or it can signal the need for a change in your life. Change is usually stressful, but it is necessary for growth. Know when sadness turns into depression. Get help if this happens rather than getting stuck in it.
People deal with sadness in different ways, and it is an important emotion because it helps to motivate people to deal with their situation. Some coping mechanisms could include creating a list, getting support from others, spending time with a pet or engaging in some activity to express sadness. Some individuals, when feeling sad, may exclude themselves from a social setting, so as to take the time to recover from the feeling. I tend to isolate when I’m sad. Any thought of facing people causes me to shut down. In the past, I dealt with sadness by drinking or getting high. The irony here is that alcohol is a depressant.
While being one of the moods people most want to shake, sadness can sometimes be perpetuated by the very coping strategies chosen, such as ruminating, “drowning one’s sorrows”, or permanently isolating oneself. As alternative ways of coping with sadness to the above, cognitive behavioral therapy suggests instead either challenging one’s negative thoughts, or scheduling some positive event as a distraction.
Being attentive to, and patient with, your sadness may also be a way for you to learn through solitude; while emotional support to help people stay with their sadness can be further helpful. Such an approach is fueled by the underlying belief that loss (when felt wholeheartedly) can lead to a new sense of aliveness, and to a re-engagement with the outside world. Take for example sadness that accompanies the loss of a loved one. It is possible to come to terms with the fact that he or she is in a better place, at peace, no longer in pain.
Though much has been made of the many benefits of happiness, it’s important to consider that sadness can be beneficial, too. Sad people are less prone to judgmental errors, are more resistant to eyewitness distortions, are sometimes more motivated, and are more sensitive to social norms. They can act with more generosity, too.
The benefits of sadness have their limits, of course. Depression, a mood disorder defined at least in part by prolonged and intense periods of sadness, can be debilitating. And no one is suggesting that we should try to induce sadness as a way of combating memory decline, for example. I’ve read that mild, temporary states of sadness may actually be beneficial in handling various aspects of our lives. Perhaps that is why, even though feeling sad can be hard, many of the greatest achievements of Western art, music, and literature explore the landscape of sadness. In everyday life, too, people often seek ways to experience sadness, at least from time to time, by listening to sad songs, watching sad movies, or reading sad books.
The famous psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote, “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.” I like the designer Bill Blass’s quote: “Red is the ultimate cure for sadness.”
When dealing with sadness in your life, focus on the good and move on. Pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and get on with things. There is a contemporary Christian song that includes the lyrics, “A man who walks by the side of the road can turn himself around. Pick himself up. Dust himself off. Start all over again.” Before you know it, you’ll be happy again. After all, you have so many things in your life to be happy about. Appreciate those things, and suddenly your sadness will feel smaller and your happiness will grow larger.