Photo by Geetanjal Khanna on Unsplash

These are emotional times, that much is obvious. Every day, we are experiencing the full gamut of feelings. The American psychologist Paul Ekman described six basic emotions: happiness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust and sadness.

The latter emotion is the one that my clients often find most difficult to understand and accept. They often get why we have evolved into have the other basic emotions but struggle with sadness.

Happiness/joy is fairly straightforward. When we feel happy, our body produces dopamine and serotonin which makes us want to do things that make us happy again and again. I am aware that dopamine also has a sinister side but I will explore that in another journal entry.

A happy person is usually more productive and beneficial to other humans and to society. In evolutionary terms, happy people are also more likely to find a mate and have children and thus perpetuate the species and particularly their DNA.

Fear and surprise are there to keep us safe from danger. When we experience them, our fight or flight survival mechanism is activated by our sympathetic nervous system. This mechanism helps us to deal with dangerous situations. A person without fear is a liability, to themselves and to society.

Disgust is also about keeping us safe, both physically and socially.

Anger is about change. When we feel angry we become energised and we are able to enact change. I am talking about anger the emotion, not aggression which is a behaviour. I have always thought that Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus must have felt very angry when they were mistreated and hurt by their oppressors but they used their anger in a positive way to bring about change for millions.

The purpose for the above emotions is easy to understand and process but, what about sadness? What is actually the point of sadness? Is it a quirk of evolution or a bad joke from God, depending on what you believe in?

Sadness is an emotion which we tend to avoid in our culture. No one likes to feel sad, do they? I certainly avoided experiencing it and this fuelled my addictions. The only point that I found in sadness was that it sometimes allowed me to manipulate others to get what I wanted.

As I described in previous entry, I had to get in touch with my sadness in my process of recovery but I was still reluctant to allow myself to feel it.

I started to gain a new understanding of anger when I came across the work of John Bowlby whilst doing my counselling training. Bowlby was a British psychologist who developed the theory of attachment. This theory says that we are driven instinctually towards the warmth and connection provided by our primary caregiver, and that the quality of this attachment to a significant other influences our relationship patterns throughout life.

In Bowlby’s theory, sadness is the emotion that makes attachment work. We feel sad when we are not close to others, especially parents or parental figures. And an adult observing a sad child will feel empathy and be drawn to comfort the child.

This pattern continues in adult life. We feel sad when we are lonely and we seek the company of others. When we see someone who is upset, we tend to feel a need to comfort and connect.

My understanding is that sadness, together with happiness, is the glue that keeps social groups together. It is an extremely powerful emotion. I remember when my mum died. It was one of the saddest and most difficult times in my entire life, maybe the saddest. But, during that time, I also felt incredibly close to other people, especially my mum, my sister, my partner and kids, as well as to other family and friends. The day we scattered my mum’s ashes, and everyone was present, it felt like a deeply significant day in my life. I felt so sad and yet so loved. I can close my eyes and really connect with that memory and that feeling. I have a deeper connection to that experience than to some of my happier memories.

I have come to believe that sadness can provide meaning to life. When I feel sad, it is because something important and meaningful has been lost. Sadness gives me the colours and the sounds and the words to make sense of existence.

I feel it is important to recognise and accept that the sadness we are feeling at the moment, and that we will feel in increasing amounts, is our soul’s way of guiding us towards deeper connections with others and, especially, with ourselves.

Good night all.

OneLove OneHeart

Tonight’s choice of music is by Christine and the Queens: People, I’ve Been Sad

World-wide confirmed cases: 1,192,028

World-wide deaths: 64,316

World-wide recovered: 245,981

UK confirmed cases: 42,449

UK deaths: 4,313

UK recovered: 215


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