Magazine article USA TODAY

So Sad for You

Magazine article USA TODAY

So Sad for You

Article excerpt

"SOME OF YOU say, 'Joy is greater than sorrow,' and others say, 'Nay, sorrow is the greater,' but I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed," said Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet. Well, that is all very well for Gibran, you think, because between being a genius and being dead, it is hard to guess how much rejoicing and suffering was endured before he drew this conclusion. In our era, we attempt to ban sadness and, to our peril, disregard the bad things that happen when a necessary emotion is scorned and punished.

Sadness is a normal part of life. In the Disney Pixar movie "Inside Out," five basic emotions five in the command center of each person's mind: anger, disgust, fear, joy, and sadness. It is clear that Sadness (the character and the emotion) is the least welcomed and, in fact, the other emotions are determined to push her to the back of experience. She definitely is not a lot of fun to have around.

Who enjoys days when everything is gray--and weeping for an hour, or two, or three, seems perfectly reasonable? Deep sorrow terrifies us; no less than author C.S. Lewis noted the painful similarity of grief to fear. Our culture eschews both sadness and fear: what else can be said of a nation where one in 10 adults is prescribed an antidepressant, with the rate increasing to as high as one in four for middle-aged women? Anti-anxiety chemical relief is not far behind, with about 11% of middle-aged women and nearly six percent of middle-aged men prescribed drugs in this category.

It is difficult to assert that we are in more dire emotional straits than when--as author and philosopher Henry David Thoreau succinctly put it--we are enduring "fives of quiet desperation." Unhappiness is not new. We compare our fives to others' situations and find ours lacking. This increases unhappiness via envy. Envy related to those around us is not new, or else two of the Ten Commandments would not be focused on envy as a source of profound evil. Envy, however dangerous, is not the same as sorrow.

Alas, poor Sadness. We have lost respect for her special place in the emotional constellation, perhaps because our culture has hammered us, for the past 100-plus years, with a demand that we be cheery and upbeat at all times. Yet, suffering is necessarily part of the process of maturation and developing into a unique adult personality rather than existing as a shallow shadow of what we might be.

Kazimierz Dabrowski's underappreciated Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD) comprises a comprehensive description of how various levels of emotional and mental disintegration are part of breaking free of immature, concrete, sheep-like approaches to life on the way to becoming fully developed as a person. Disintegration sounds dreadful, but it is not "nervous breakdown" material except when things go wrong. More often, these processes of disintegration feature times of intense emotional experiences, including existential angst. Later, the integrated person conscientiously has rebuilt himself, and now acts on altruistic values, strengths, and deep sensitivities.

TPD has similarities to humanistic theories of personality, such as Abraham Maslow's. …

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