The Sadness Project: There’s A Place For It In Your Life (and it’s not depressing!)

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Happiness. Joy. Euphoria. All words to describe a general state of contentment, pleasantness, and/or pleasure. Books have been written about ways to live the happiest life ever… countless hours of research have gone into the very concept of what makes people the happiest. Mottos are derived around “Do what makes you happy…” Yet, what happens when those feelings fade, and the not so “fun” ones take over? When sadness creeps in?

This past weekend, TJ and I were driving to have lunch when suddenly feelings of sadness overcame me. I simply couldn’t explain why though. We were having a great day, had picked out some tile for our soon-to-be remodeled bathrooms and were heading over to my parent’s house later that evening for a fun birthday BBQ. So, what was my deal?? I turned to TJ and said, “I just have this overwhelming need to cry.” Genuine in his response he said, “It’s okay, sometimes I love to cry. Want to cry it out together?” There was both truth and humor to his statement. I kind of laughed while I had tears in my eyes.

Fast forward to Tuesday at work, when a few of us headed to see the movie “Inside Out,” (the benefits of working in the mental health field :)). If you haven’t seen it, see it. If you have, you know what I am talking about. The film enters the mind of an 11-year old girl whose mind is “controlled” by five basic emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. The movie, in general, is a lesson on emotional maturity, simplified for children, although, I’d argue, it was just the right explanation for me, a therapist and in my 30’s. It struck a cord with me. It took me right back to that Saturday afternoon in the car with TJ. Simply put. We can’t be happy all the time.

I’ve tried to imagine a world in which there isn’t any feeling other than happiness. Quite frankly, it scares me. Why? It seems slightly fake. Contrived. I think about the times in my life when I’ve felt real sadness (i.e. after a break-up, the death of one of my grandparents, being let down, or even after feeling like I’ve completely failed in an endeavor) and those are the moments that have also produced the most self-growth within myself.  I had to learn how to mange those feelings appropriately, allow myself to feel them, and then put together a plan to move forward. Sometimes it required the help of others, which ultimately brought us closer together, or sometimes it required me and only me. It’s often through my sadness that I have come up with the best solutions. Or, even more simply put, how would you know joy without sadness?

Granted, the surge of emotions I was feeling Saturday afternoon could have been the abnormal amounts of hormones that are currently racing through my body, but I like to think it was my mind, or body’s, way of telling me to do a mental check. Have I been focusing on the things that are most important to me? Am I in relationships that support and fulfill? Who am I surrounding myself with? Or, at an even more basic level, it was my way of shedding the stress from the week, and preparing myself for the fun of the remaining weekend.

The take home message for me? That it’s okay to let myself feel all of my emotions. Each emotion serves a purpose… or it wouldn’t be there. That communicating them in a mature and adult manner to those I trust and love can be refreshing and helpful. That it’s okay to sit with them… it may take 5 minutes, it may take a few hours, or maybe a week or two… but to allow myself the genuine experience each is giving me. That having two different emotions at the same time is normal (when I was laughing and had tears in my eyes at TJ’s response to me…). And that after I allow all of that process to take place, I land back on happiness… because honestly, it’s a much more pleasant place to be!