In defense of melancholy
Thoughts on the emotional spectrum
Find your bliss. Live, love, laugh. Don’t worry, be happy. Stenciled on the living room walls of ten million middle-aged moms, or superimposed over pastel prints of serene beaches, or croaking out of the gaping maw of a wall-mounted rubber fish, affirmations about the importance, the absolute necessity, of seizing joy and nailing it down like you’re a Jane Austen heroine and bliss is a man with 2000 pounds a year, are everywhere.
But what of melancholy, that strange and almost dreamy state of lonesome introspection? That feeling the dictionary calls “a pensive mood,” or “a sadness without reason.” To be clear, we are not talking here about depression, or grief, or even misery. Just run-of-the-mill sadness. The low, slow feeling of being blue. That experience of “having a day.” We live in a world where sadness is something to be gotten rid of, a sensation to avoid at all costs. It can even be considered a failure, a tragic and shameful expression of our inability to reach out and seize the day like that magnet on the break room fridge told us to.
When we talk about our emotions, we think of them as a dichotomy. Happiness is good, and sadness is bad. But emotions have no morality. They don’t need to be judged, they can simply be felt. Most of us grind through the days, working, going to school, having a life, and there is a general sense that the purpose of that grind is the pursuit of happiness, and that the moments when we are happy are the moments we have succeeded, and the times when we are not are the times when we have fallen short of our goal.
But there is a beauty in sadness, and there is a necessity for it. Not because it helps us appreciate times of joy more, or because its presence indicates a well that has been, and will be again, filled with happiness. But for its own sake. Moments of sadness and drizzly grey days are opportunities to be still. To be tender with ourselves and to draw inward for a moment. To press gently on our spirits, and feel the places where we ache. Sadness is not the absence of happiness, and to attempt to “conquer” it is to do an injustice to ourselves.
Sadness is a feeling that invites examination in a way that few other emotions do. It is a universal experience that is also wholly our own. Happiness can be intense, even frenetic. Something that spills over, that craves to be shared. A cup that runneth over. We embrace happiness as we should, because it is pleasurable, enjoyable. But we should embrace those days of inexplicable blues in the same way. We should look at them as a chance to slow down and look deeply within ourselves, to see what we are needing, to identify the places where we hurt.
The next time you feel downhearted, just let yourself be. Seize your sad. Put that on a poster.