Many of us go out of our way to avoid sadness. We try to focus on the positive, pack our schedules, or avoid thinking about whatever it is that's getting us down.
Other people might help us avoid our sadness, too, dropping by to distract us, inviting us to events or buying flowers or food, or purposely avoiding conversations that might remind us of our loss.
This avoidance is normal. And it makes sense – it's not comfortable or fun to experience deep sadness.
But the truth is: sadness is powerful, healthy, and human.
Sadness shows us what matters.
Sadness is generally a response to loss. It could be the loss of a person, a physical object, a pet, a time in one's life, a feeling, a relationship...
And the reason we're sad is because whatever it was we lost really mattered to us. Sadness shows us our ability to feel deeply. And it clarifies our values and priorities.
Sadness gives us the ability to release.
Know the feeling you get sometimes after a big cry?
Catharsis is defined as the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions. Strong feelings of sadness moving through the body can help us lighten an emotional burden.
It doesn't mean we care less after crying, it just means we've spent time experiencing the sadness, and allowing it to move through us.
Sadness encourages us to slow down.
When we experience a strong wave of sadness, we usually want to retreat. Perhaps that means staying indoors, being around only close friends, taking a bit of time off from work or obligations.
These are all ways that we create space for ourselves to feel and heal.
Sadness connects us to others.
Sadness builds empathy. When we've lost someone or something important to us, we can truly connect with others in their loss.
And a whole new community of healing is formed when people connect over a shared loss. You might picture the connection and mutual support that takes place after a natural disaster, or at a funeral. Caring for each other, even when the circumstances are difficult, can connect us in community.
Curiosity about sadness can bring healing.
Sadness is intelligent. Instead of pushing the feeling away, if we explore it we can understand its source in better detail.
You can ask yourself, "What is the root cause of my sadness?" Be as specific as possible – rather than the zoomed-out situation as whole, can you put a finger on what's making you sad right now?
General: I'm sad because of my breakup.
In the moment: I had a terrible day at work, and realized my first instinct was to call my ex...but now I can't. I'm feeling lonely.
Why do we focus on the specific present-moment? So we know how to take action.
To be clear, just identifying the root cause of your sadness can be the action. Sitting with it, paying attention to it, not trying to change it – that's all powerful.
And when you really put your finger on the source of sadness, it's possible you'll come across a way to cope. Some examples include spending time in community, memorializing a person who has passed, noticing feelings of sadness in the body and allowing yourself to cry, or be still or slow.
According to Karla McLaren's The Language of Emotions, sadness requires that we ask ourselves: What must be released? What must be rejuvinated?