Saturday, July 4, 2015

Permeating Sadness

It's part of the life package that everyone gets once they arrive in the world.
But what is sadness? What purpose does it solve? At a glance, it would seem like sadness is just a negative reinforcement. That explanation seems very apt. It is also very wrong.

Sadness is a natural reaction to a difficult situation. Like most emotions, it has other causes that are not related to external factors. It does not need to have a cause outside the self. You feel sad when a friend moves away, or when your life does not seem to have a purpose. Both of these make you sad, but they are different kinds of sadness.

Robert Burton spent his life studying the science of sadness. In his classic 'Anatomy of Melancholy', he wrote "He that increaseth wisdom, increaseth sorrow". There is a long tradition of attempting to discern the value of sadness. It's not only an inevitable part of life, I believe it's an essential one as well.

Sadness, as opposed to anger or violence, is an expression of suffering that immediately brings people closer to the person suffering. Unraveling sadness also leads to the inevitable question of whether the sadness felt by us is the same as sadness felt by some other person.

I measure every grief I meet, 
with narrow, probing eyes. 
I wonder if it weighs like mine
or has an easier size
                                         -Emily Dickinson

But sadness is not a primitive stick based scale to be measured relatively. It is absolute. Either you are sad, or you are not. What the others feel has no way of affecting your own conditions, and yet it does. Humans have a way of projecting their selves onto other people. It's a tool of empathy, but it also leads to other despairing emotions like jealousy. The answer is, it's all just in your head.
Then again, so is everything else you feel. That doesn't make it any less real.

The Pixar movies - Inside Out does a good job of cutting through all of the years of trends of the 'believe in yourself and everything will happen for you' movement. Sometimes we don't get what we want, that doesn't mean we cannot be good at what we do. No matter how badly you want to achieve something, that doesn't mean it's going to happen, but maybe you can get close to it. It's perfectly alright to not feel happy all the time. Sadness has its place.

Do we need to attack sadness with all the tools and weapons available to us like technology and genetic engineering, or is there something sad about a world without sadness? People talk about transforming walls into doors, but walls keep us safe from the cold harshness of the outside. Sadness serves a purpose that's closely related with how we deal with challenges and issues. Removing the fuel gauge won't make your tank full.
Taking away sadness won't make you happy, it will just lead to nothingness.


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