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Sadness: The Pursuit of Unhappiness

When most people think of a tsunami, they think of one colossal wave crashing into land with impact, destroying everything in the vicinity. They picture the film 'The Impossible' or the devastating news stories. While this does occur, it is far more likely that tsunamis involve numerous menacing waves that can last for several hours. Areas bordering the Pacific Ocean experience several a year, as if they were the rain and wind that we're so very used to.

Everyone knows what sadness is. As soon as we’re born, we have the ability to express it. We start crying. We then become sore losers, we go through crocodile tears, and we throw tantrums. We get sad a lot. But when you ask someone to explain what it means, nobody can answer. Even when you turn to the dictionary, the definition of sadness is a feeling of sorrow. I’m quite sure they’re synonyms? But we know what it is. We just can't explain it. And when we ask children, most normally know what it is. But this doesn’t mean we should assume that every child knows when they are sad. Because they don’t. Let’s give an example. A child is feeling sad because he is being excluded from a game. This sadness is then accompanied by anger. The child tries to deal with his negative feelings by punching a wall. When an emotion evoking situation occurs, our brain unconsciously identifies the emotion and then tries to regulate the emotion. This regulation involves trying to make positive emotions last longer and negative emotions last shorter. But if you identify the emotion incorrectly, then you cannot regulate it. When the boy punches the wall, he is using a anger regulation strategy to remove his sadness and the result is that he is still sad. He then grows up incapable of understanding how to regulate his sadness and consequently, he gets angry anytime he’s sad. This isolates him from others and now he is also lonely, which also makes him sad. The numerous menacing waves that never seem to end. So how can we teach our children and students to deal with their sadness? Well the first step is to teach them how to identify when they are sad. You can’t stop something if you don’t know what it is.

Sadness is an emotion. It is short term. It is a message from our brains that makes us feel pain. It is generally the feeling when we lose a football match, when we don’t get our own way or when we know someone is disappointed in us. Evolutionary psychologists believe that sadness developed as an immediate reaction to prevent our ancestors from hunting after the loss of a close one, because otherwise; they would be killed. However, sadness can also be a mood, meaning it can last longer. This is the feeling you might have when you experience a bad break up, when you hear your dog has passed away, or when you didn’t get that job you really wanted. In both these cases, it is our brain telling us that we need to mourn and reflect on something that has happened.

However, with emotions, it is important to remember that everybody experiences emotions in different ways. This is because our emotions develop through our childhood. For example, some might cry when they are sad while others will isolate themselves. So how can we tell when we feel sad? We can tell this through how our body changes, how we think and how we behave. Not through the traditional way of definitions. Now we already know all of this information independently. We know that when others are sad, they cry, we know that when others are sad, they think negatively, and we know that when others are sad, they tend to isolate themselves from other people. But sometimes, we’re not aware when we are doing this. And if we’re unaware, then we can’t get a tissue to wipe our tears, we can’t stop ourselves thinking negatively, and we can’t make the decision to stop being alone. Instead, we unconsciously carry out strategies that maintain our sadness. We go back to the people that continue to make us sad, we respond to difficult situations in the same way, and worst of all, we just ignore the feeling and hope it goes away.

The emotion of sadness is painful. The mood of sadness is even more painful. But this is NOT depression. Depression is a mental illness. It is a debilitating pain where people lose the ability to do anything. It is the constant state of sadness that will not go away. It is the one colossal wave that kills. Sadness is part of our mental health. It is something that happens to us several times a day and we are not even aware of it. Depression is something that is extremely difficult to deal with but we are very much capable of dealing with sadness. And if we don’t deal with sadness, we run the risk of falling into a dysfunctional state of sadness, which is depression. So this is not a post about the mental illness of depression. It is a post about the mental health aspect of sadness.

In conclusion, sadness is not a bad thing. It might be painful, but it’s not bad. Because with pain comes experience. Sadness is just our brain telling us that we need to reflect on something. And the way we do that is to express the sadness. Tell someone and talk about it. Or if that doesn’t work, write it down, as a diary entry, as a song, as a piece of literature, Anything. Just don’t hold it in. Because that is not reflecting on it. Think about it and don’t do something that will make the situation worse. Embrace the waves. They'll still happen even if you try to ignore them but when you understand them, they're actually quite magnificent. When tsunamis hit, do what Dory says. Just keep swimming.


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