Thoughts on Sadness

Yesterday, for some reason, I felt sad.

I don’t know where the feeling came from, but as I was driving to meet a friend for dinner, I got this heaviness in my chest that I can only describe as feeling sad.

When it hit me, the first thing I did was try to fight against it. I started to rationalize that I was tired and had a lot on my mind. I told myself there was no reason to feel this way, as life was progressing nicely. Finally I reassured myself that I was a happy person and I didn’t need to feel sad.

Or did I?

No matter how much I tried to use logic to fight it, the sad feeling remained, sort of like the feeling you get when you eat too much at Thanksgiving. You shift yourself around, but the feeling inside just makes you uncomfortable.

That was when I turned to reasons why. I was sad because I missed my family, who live on another continent. I was sad because of a breakup a few months back that left me wanting. I was sad that my ambitions weren’t becoming reality exactly like I expected.

After about twenty minutes of playing psychologist to myself, I realized something profound: I wasn’t sad because of something specific. 

I was just sad.

Sadness is an unwanted emotion. It’s not one we celebrate. Instead we give it’s opposite all the favor.

Being happy is the primary goal of most people. I’m serious. Ask a few people you know what they want. Most will say ‘I just want to be happy.’

In our culture, we wish people Happy Birthday and Happy New Year. We call people who are recently married ‘the happy couple’.

However, we never ever wish people sadness.

Sadness is left all alone to pop up at awkward times, and usually we fight it tooth and nail, or even simply try to ignore it hoping it will go away.

But the truth is that sadness is a part of all us, at certain times of our lives, and often without our permission.

So what do we do when we feel an emotion, like sadness, that isn’t what we want?

The spiritual teacher Ram Dass has a great analogy: “Emotions are like waves. Watch them disappear in the distance on the vast calm ocean.”

I agree with this. Sometimes you feel your emotions swelling, and sometimes they catch you off guard and sweep you along. 

But just like waves, they don’t last forever. The best thing you can do is let the waves flow through you, by fully experiencing them.

Last night, as I felt the wave of sadness overtake me, I remembered to let it flow. I experienced it as a full emotion, letting it sweep me along with it. For a minute or two it was quite strong, and I felt the urge to fight it. But I stayed relaxed.

I told myself: feel what you feel.

Sooner than I expected, the sadness started to subside. The feeling washed away and was replaced by a calm, open, clear feeling.

I share this as a reminder to myself that emotions are part of us, whether we want them or not.

Sadness is just as important for us to experience as happiness. A life of total bliss grows boring. We need to contrast good times with bad if we want to live fully.

In moments of sadness, fear, doubt, regret, anger, loneliness or any other ‘negative’ emotion, I always try to remind myself that my emotions are like waves. They flow through me, and when we I to fight them, they simply overthrow my balance.

But if I stay in the flow of the emotion, experience it in the moment fully, and let it wash through me, it passes sooner than I expect.

Feel what you feel.  It’s how you know you’re truly alive.


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