Is Sadness Good for Us?

‘If you never feel sad, it is because you have never become attached to someone, and that is a very lonely way to be.’

An article in the Daily Mail, UK, caught my eye with its headline: “Don’t Be Depressed: Feeling Sad Can Be Good for You“. It reiterates arguments that feelings of sadness have been packaged up according to the medical model, turned into a disease, and are often then ‘medicated away’ by doctors who do not necessarily take into account the context in which the feelings their patients report occur.

It is clear enough that after a bereavement someone who is not suffering from any kind of mental health problem might tick a lot of the diagnostic boxes for depression, with feelings of sadness and lack of interest in hobbies being expected and disturbed sleeping and appetite extremely probable. What may be less clear is why the state of sadness is seen not only as inevitable but as valuable, even positive in itself. Psychologist Dorothy Rowe puts it succinctly, ‘If you never feel sad, it is because you have never become attached to someone, and that is a very lonely way to be.’

So every sadness is part of a connection to others, sadness is a part of love. Expression of sadness (rather than taking the tablets so our functioning is not impaired and ‘no one notices’) mobilises support systems, and maybe is an evolutionary mechanism that helps us to survive. It promotes reflection as well, and this is also no bad thing.

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You could even argue that apart from our individual bonds, there is enough suffering in the world around us to make anyone sad, if we connect with it. You could argue that we are all interconnected whether we like it or not. And in this case it might be a good idea to frame the sadness differently, not as the pain of a total cutting off, e.g. disconnection from someone who has died, but as a chance to be aware of those interconnections. No one is actually lost from this web.

And the more we feel the sadness, the stronger those connections are to everyone who has ever suffered (maybe including animals, or even the planet itself). This gives us a spiritual sense of the world which might really make life feel worth living.

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