What’s wrong with being sad?

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By Sabrina Almeida

When was the last time you had a heart-to-heart chat with a friend? Where you discussed your troubles without the fear of being judged… In high school or university perhaps???

I mourn the loss of those ‘real’ friendships. There was no pressure to appear like your life was perfect. The first thing you did when faced with a problem was to seek a friend’s advice and support. There was no shame in it. Everybody had their share of ups and downs, so no one was better or worse than you. You laughed and cried together. Moreover, sharing your problems made your burden lighter and you didn’t feel lonely or depressed.

It was also cheaper than going to a shrink.

Today most friends, however close, don’t want to talk about their troubles. They’d like you to think they don’t have any. This creates a vicious cycle as you are less likely to share in return. Any issues—health, money or family—are swept under the rug. In fact, many are more likely to bare their soul to a stranger rather than confide in friends. Because they won’t think badly of us?

Call it the social media culture. Where only the prettiest pictures are displayed and you exaggerate every little moment of happiness or achievement. What’s more your social circle on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and whatever else, comes to acknowledge it as a norm they must live up to.

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What’s wrong with this picture? It’s not real.

On the contrary the pursuit of happiness is making us more anxious than ever before, as British journalist and documentary filmmaker Ruth Whippman revealed in her book.

Ironically the strong compulsion to erase all sadness and negativity from our lives has given birth to a billion-dollar industry. From books and blogs to self-help and spiritual gurus, and Godmen—we are constantly searching for the right formula for happiness and willing to pay any price for it.

And in the day where there is an app for everything… if you ever feel a moment of melancholy, you could download one that will get you back on the happiness track.

While there is nothing wrong with wanting to be happy, refusing to deal with sadness or acknowledge negative feelings reduces our ability to cope with unpleasant or challenging situations. One of the reasons the West is so aggrieved by the poverty in the third world is because it is an unfamiliar sight. Not that it does not exist here.

Imagine a world where there is only sunshine and no rain. It’s unnatural! A study by Berkeley University, California showed that sadness is not the “problem emotion” it is being made out to be. (Unless you are consumed by it all the time.) It supported the premise that sadness had a purpose and could be good for you. As being sad can improve your memory, judgement, motivation and in some cases even human interactions.

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Joe Forgas, a prominent social psychologist who spent a couple of decades studying sadness, went on to say that being happy all the time can have unhappy consequences in your dealings with others. Judging from society’s happiness with someone’s misfortunes—he may have had something going there. After all being overtly happy can invite envy and attract negative feelings towards you.

We were given more than one emotion. Therefore experiencing pain at loved one’s death is as normal as the feeling of joy at the birth of a child. Yes, it’s true that being sad does not feel good. But that’s what makes being happy a satisfying experience, doesn’t it?

Psychologists tell us that normal mental health includes a full range of emotions that occur from time to time and that they are an important part of the human experience. Isn’t it sad that we need a ‘specialist’ to tell us something that our grandparents took for granted. I’ve known many people who have led difficult lives and done a great job of it. After all adversity promotes bravery and courage more than happiness does.

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I’ve always believed that for others to lean on you, you must show that you need them too. And that sadness brings you closer to people that matter more than happiness does.

The sudden demise of my uncle last week and the outpouring of support from family and friends reminded me of that. It relieved me of the pressure of pretending that I had a handle on a very difficult time in my life. It was also important for me to show my kids that death and sorrow were an inevitable part of life.

As kids battle with their emotions on their journey to adulthood, it is essential for us to help them acknowledge and deal with both positive and negative feelings. It is unhealthy and dangerous to make them believe that they should only be happy all the time. Often that’s what leads to substance abuse.

Psychological mumbo jumbo aside, one must experience sadness to know real happiness. It’s really that simple!

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