Is sadness necessarily a bad thing? I’m not talking about depression, which can make normal functioning impossible. I mean the natural human sense of feeling bad – often in reaction to life circumstances. Sometimes sadness is something we’re taught to fear and fix – when instead, it’s a reminder that we’re actually alive, a pointer to areas that need a bit of attention and a normal part of mortal experience.
This theory is supported by Joe Forgas, a psychology professor at the Uni of NSW in Australia. Writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, he argues that sad people tend to behave more intelligently, because of how mood affects the way our brains process information. People who are sad, he claims, tend to be more critical of evidence, more convincing in their arguments and less likely to accept stereotypes. They’re also more empathetic and tend to listen rather than talk. He writes, ‘Say you are in a group and you feel that you are not getting on, that you are not being accepted. You would probably find this upsetting…it would put you in a negative mood and it would cause you to pay better attention to what everybody else is saying, pull back a little bit. If you feel sad, it is basically like a signal, ‘Watch out, don’t push, adapt, pay attention’.
Sadness is part of a spectrum of healthy emotions that can also lead us to think more deeply and to understand ourselves and others more fully. Victor Hugo even wrote of the ‘pleasure of being sad’ – and the box-office success of weepies such as Steel Magnolias, speaks for itself. A good cry can be cathartic and it is a vital part of many processes, such as grief or loss. Sadness is also a way of communicating with others and even asking for help.
Mental health does not imply the absence of sadness – in fact, it’s an essential part of being human. Jesus wept. And in Him we’re freed from having to fear and fix. We can enter into the fullness of “redemption’s story” – a story that includes much sadness. Perhaps we need to see a positive side to feeling negative.
Remember: Inside every silver lining is a dark cloud!