Sadness Is Valuable Too

Sadness Is Valuable TooBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

A few months back, my husband asked me “Do you always have to be so cheerful?”

“Would you rather I were grumpy?” I replied.

He paused for a second, then nodded. “Sometimes.”

That started me thinking. Because sometimes I feel grumpy inside. I feel sad and angry, scared and worthless. I feel all those things, but I almost never express them.

I’m sure I wasn’t born this way, which means that somewhere along the line I learned that I shouldn’t have negative emotions. And if—heaven forbid—I had them, I’d better not let them show. Negative emotions were like dirty laundry. Everyone has dirty laundry, but you’d better wash it quick, and if someone is coming over and you couldn’t get it washed in time, at least have the decency to hide it. No one wants to have to see that.

The more I actually took the time to think about this, the more I started to see the subtle ways we’re trained to be ashamed of our negative emotions. I saw it happening to me and I watched it happen to others.

It happens when someone asks how you’ve been and what you’ve been up to, then halfway through trying to share with them the truth about your week, they’ll say something like “Okay, no more negative talk. Let’s focus on the positive.”

And you’re left thinking why did you ask me if you didn’t want to know? So the next time someone asks, you lie. You bundle all the fear and pain inside and you feel very alone.

It happens when you’re having a bad day. Maybe you’re tired. Maybe your body aches. Maybe you’re living in fear of what the doctor’s phone call will tell you. Whatever the reason, you’re not able to put on the happy veneer demanded by social situations in our society or you’re a little more quiet than usual.

And someone, who probably meant well, says something like, “Just relax and have fun” or “I like that so-and-so is always happy.”

Bull crap they are. Bull. Crap.

How do I know? I’ve been told I’m “always happy” and I can tell you there were days when I was smiling on the outside and inside I hurt so badly it’s a miracle I wasn’t crying tears of blood.

I have to wonder if the rise of mental illness, specifically anxiety and depression, isn’t at least partially connected to the fact that we’re shamed for expressing negative emotions. It’s like an infection that’s not allowed to drain. We’re holding it all inside and our body is screaming for a way to release it because it knows it can’t heal until it finds a means to purge what’s slowly killing it.

Let me be clear. I am a naturally cheerful person. I believe it’s important to find joy in life as much as we can, but trying to find ways to enjoy our life regardless of our external circumstances doesn’t mean that we should deny or ignore our equally valid negative emotions.

I loved the movie Inside Out because wrapped inside of a cute movie was this very truth—joy is essential to a good life, but it isn’t enough. The character of Joy in the movie constantly shoves the Sadness character to the side, not letting her touch anything or be involved in anything. But it’s Sadness who’s able to comfort and help another character who has experienced a tragedy because Sadness validates the importance of what he’s lost. It’s Sadness who’s able to strengthen the relationship between Riley and her parents.

Sadness is important too.

It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be frustrated or scared or hurt. Having those emotions is natural. And it’s in facing them, not in denying them, that we learn and grow as human beings. It’s in facing them that we develop empathy, compassion, and courage.

Ignoring those emotions doesn’t make us stronger or happier or better people. It makes us insincere. It makes us liars. And it isolates us from real connections with other people.

And that’s not who I want to be.

How about you?

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