The Beauty of Sadness

I am not at all ashamed to report that I went to see Inside Out in the movie theatre with the same eagerness I’ve been known to reserve for chocolate and tea parties (which is to say…a lot). I was excited to see how Hollywood would portray emotional nuance. And I am equally unashamed to say I LOVED IT.

A year later…with a mug of tea in hand, a warm and soft robe draping around me, and rain falling down outside, I find myself cooing with contentment as I watch it again.

As I stare up at it, my boyfriend leans over and says “Oh you are definitely joy.” That’s probably the second or third person to tell me so. And I guess that’s a good thing. I like that I am seen as joyful. I have a lot to be grateful for in my life, so if I’m projecting “joy” externally, then then that must mean that others are seeing that gratitude in some tangible form.

But…Joy is hardly my favorite character. Nor is “Joy” the character with whom I felt the greatest connection. If anything, I felt most drawn to AND connected with its real hero: sadness.

Maybe this makes me morbid or “emo” but I’ve always had a certain appreciation for the darker feelings in my emotional repertoire. Long before I knew about anything science had to say on the subject of sadness (and its surprising evolutionary advantages) I knew on some deep level being sad could be beautiful.

And just what are the evolutionary advantages of depression? Well…in a nutshell…depression helps people to solve really challenging and complex social problems in their lives. Ordinarily, when in an upbeat mood, we are distractible. A handsome man or a beautiful woman walks by and our need to work on ourselves and grow diminishes. A plate of delectable food rolls by and we drift along beside it like a looney tunes character on a child’s sitcom. But when we are depressed, our interest in both diminishes. We want nothing more than to ruminate on our problems and ponder all the options. And when in that kind of state…if we are brave enough to actually just sit with it…we find solutions faster. That miserable feeling provides us with a sense of urgency. It motivates us to change the circumstances.

The movie Inside Out illustrated this subtly (and masterfully). What did Joy do when Sadness wanted to reach out and touch the memories? She gave Sadness a user manual to read. That’s because sadness is best equipped to absorb that kind of information. And when Joy and Sadness were in a bind, it was sadness that knew how to navigate.

Depression also puts us in a position to be prepped for empathy. When we are sad, we soften. We have content with which to be able to connect with others who might be suffering. Joy, while lovely, doesn’t necessarily put us in a position to connect with others who are in pain. There is a sense of “Hey…just cheer up! You’ll be okay!” We need them to cheer up. Because their sadness makes us feel uncomfortable. We don’t want to lose our high. So we distance ourselves from those who threaten to taint our pleasure with a lower energy emotion.When we are sad, though, we can sit still for a moment. We can reach out and say “I feel that. I have been there. I see you..” Much the same way as Sadness was able to do for Riley’s imaginary friend.

And this is my experience when I’m sad. I slow down. I reach out for help. I reach for affection. It forces me to be kind to myself in a way that doesn’t always come natural to me otherwise. And so…though I know this blog is meant to be about joy and health and all that jazz. It seemed worth pausing to consider that while exuberance feels fabulous – it is sadness that forces me to a halt and makes me reflect. It’s sadness that makes me connect.

Having felt depression on my own skin, I know that while it was painful…it was an exquisite kind of pain. Those periods propelled me out of relationships from which I needed to escape and out of cities from which I needed to migrate. It forced me out of jobs I had no business doing business for, and into the arms of a community who better represent my values.

So today, when I think about what to be grateful for…I think I’ll invite melancholy and depression to the party. I am grateful for every bout of depression I have ever felt on my own skin. Every cloudy thought.

Because just as rain is what makes roses bloom, it was sadness that brought forth the best parts of my life today.

Thanks, depression, you’re my hero.

https://www.boston.com/culture/movies/2015/06/19/empathy-the-real-star-of-pixars-inside-out

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/depressions-evolutionary/

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