Enjoying the Benefits of Sadness

Enjoying the Benefits of Sadness

            Those of you who follow me regularly know that I have been sorting through some things as of late.  And while it is true to say that I am fine, it is also accurate to admit that I have been struggling some, which is another way of saying that at times I have been feeling sad.  So often, however, I feel joyful and happy to be alive.  Yesterday, for example, I wrote the following on my Facebook Page:

            This evening, as I ran along the muddy trail around the lake, I felt God, which is to say that I felt like He was with me, and this isn’t unusual because the earth is like my chapel. Nonetheless I felt peace and love and compassion for myself and all living creatures and the sunrays falling on the gently lapping water tapped a deep chord inside my soul. I thought of so many of the people I love with gratitude as I ran.

I hold these moments of joy tight and I cherish them and I long for them; I long for the sun to take a little longer to set even as it fast approaches the tree line and I greedily hold that sense of beauty knowing that it will pass too soon.  It does always pass but it returns too, often even before I knew it was gone.

This morning the clock indicated 7:54 a.m. and I kissed my three children goodbye and my youngest son blew me kisses from the yellow school bus window.  I sipped on coffee from my white mug and read a few blogs and listened to 80’s music on my iMac and I paced around my house and felt an aching loneliness.  I read a blog about guns and children shooting one another and the anger and outrage seeped from the words and I didn’t like the way it made me feel.  Then I read a clever, funny blog that spoofed 12-step programs and it made me feel irritated and humiliated because I for one must live “one day at a time.”  I sorted through a newsfeed that consisted of positive affirmations but today, too many of them read like empty, meaningless banalities, so I finally let go of trying to feel happy and got back to work on drafting chapter 25 in my quiet study looking out over the woods.  I spotted a solitary deer and he was alone too.

My children got back off the school bus at around 1 p.m.  They get off school early on Mondays.  In some respects, I resent Monday’s shortened schedule because it interferes with my work, and yet their voices and smiles and laughs feed my soul, especially at times when my soul feels sick.  Which is to say that I never feel lonely when my pack is with me.  Briefly, before I skidded into the dentist’s office with my offspring, I called my friend to chat about how we were feeling and it was illuminating because we both agreed that despite our momentous challenges, we both felt “okay,” which is to say good, not great.  She mentioned to me that she read a blog titled “The Benefits of Sadness” and described it to me quickly, so I read it.

And it ushered me into a new understanding of where I should remain emotionally.  You see, “sadness can fill us with appreciation for the good we’ve lost.  It can help us treasure the good we haven’t.”  I am grieving now, for things in my past, but this sadness I am feeling helps me to appreciate the childhood I am creating for my own children.  The blogger went on to explain that sadness can make us feel more tender, and I realized how true this was as I leaned over and played with my youngest son at the dentist.  He wore ragged blue corduroys and a white t-shirt and he grew an inch overnight so he is all elbows and dimples and a cowlick and I imagined the way he would look in 10 years and I wanted to hold him so tightly, but he wanted to sit on the other side of the room, so I adored him from a distance.

The blog post went on to explain that sadness “can make us more empathetic and compassionate toward others who’ve gone through or are going through” tough times and I have seen compassion take root in the way I treat not only my friends and my readers but even more importantly, in how I treat myself.  For Lent, I gave up, at my therapist’s suggestion, self-destructive thoughts or feelings.  And rather than considering myself a failure for being self-destructive in the past, I view these as mistakes rather than character flaws.  And I forgive myself for screwing up so many things.  I am treating myself with compassion.

Finally, the post claimed that feeling sadness “can connect us to others by signaling we need their support . . .  [and it] can incline us to give support to others who’ve supported us.”  When I got home, two supportive messages awaited me.  One was from a friend who thanked me for announcing my fight with alcohol.  She told me that she wanted to go sober as well and she used the word “inspiration” and “you are” in the same sentence.  She helped me feel better and perhaps I have helped her a little.  The other message thanked me for writing honestly about my past and shared with me that writer’s latest lovely blog post.

Feeling sad also helps me appreciate that my true nature is not a melancholic one.  I may at times listen to a dark muse, but a gorgeous, exuberant childlike muse also speaks to me, and very loudly at times.  I am that woman who never stops performing outrageous belly flops or playing air guitar in front of a crowd of strangers.  I am the woman in the picture below, taken by Enlightenment Ain’t for Sissies, and you know what I’m doing?  Pretending to steal second base in the bottom of the ninth inning.  This is who I am, and I like the big wide smile I am wearing.  Perhaps the joy and sadness are not really opposites; perhaps they are part of the living canvas that makes us feel human.

Note: thank you to Enlightenment Ain’t for Sissies for the great photo you took!!

16 Comments on “Enjoying the Benefits of Sadness

  1. “Feeling sad also helps me appreciate that my true nature is not a melancholic one.”

    That’s an important lesson. I’ve never been afraid of my sadness but there are times, like right now when I’m dealing with illness and other things, when sadness is a heavy cloak I feel unable or unwilling to remove. And then I wake up the next day and my mood has shifted, the cloak stays in the closet and I remember I’m not living a life of sadness, I just had a sad day.

  2. Sadness is not something to be afraid of. You embrace it along with everything else you feel. Life is to enormous to feel just one thing. Love this.

  3. El, El, El … you and I, friend, you and I. Let me tell you, I have had the odd sad week the last little while, and reading this opened my eyes to something that I had been toying with: that the sadness I feel is for the good times I’ve had the ginormous pleasure of enjoying. I have also noticed that I miss that sweet, sad ache when I don’t feel it anymore. It not being there makes me think I’m missing something … much more so than when I’m actually feeling it.

    I’m glad that you can channel your belly-flopping, air-guitar-playing muse into your everyday life. Let’s just hope we never run into each other in a grocery store .. it would be quite a show, you rocking out and me dancing away. 😀

  4. Just another s-a-h-mother: gosh I wish you lived near me. You’re like a soul sister. And you write the most amazing, incisive and supportive comments. Thank you so much my friend. And yes, I believe that we are often wistful for the good times. I for one often feel that way. And to feel is so much better than to feel nothing. xoxo.

  5. Whoops…posted too soon! And appreciation are the great benefits of sadness. Not always in the moment but during little breaks when the clouds part for a moment and offer a moment of sunshine. I hope your tomorrows bring more sunshine and less sadness bit by bit. Xo

  6. Love this post and the perspective it gave me as I have been struggling lately against a demon that has yet to fully emerge. Sometimes, I think if I can see what specifically is making me sad, I can fix it. Your post reminded me that “for everything there is a season.” Thank you, and especially, thank you for this line:
    “Perhaps the joy and sadness are not really opposites; perhaps they are part of the living canvas that makes us feel human.”

  7. “Feeling sad also helps me appreciate that my true nature is not a melancholic one.”

    Awesomely said. When you catch me listening to Under The Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers, I’m embracing my sadness so I can get over it.

    I so get you, babes. XO

  8. Thank you so much my friend!! Yes, yes, yes. I spent years trying to duck sadness, ashamed that when I did embrace it I was “wallowing in it.” And then I learned to sit with my feelings and just FEEL them. It is a lot of work but it is how we feel. And I get you darling. xo.