Sadness: Definition, Causes, & Related Emotions
What is sadness? Find out why it is important to learn how to sit with sadness and some techniques to overcome it.
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What Is Sadness? (A Definition)
Sadness is an emotional pain that usually has a clear cause, such as losing a loved one, a failure at something important, or an unsuccessful goal.
Feeling sad is normal. Despite our constant efforts to make life perfect and pain-free, sadness will inevitably come, whether it’s from that promotion we didn’t get or a heated argument with a loved one. Everyone has a bad day sometimes, and we all feel sadness at some point in our lives.
Sadness is also a healthy emotion. Although it might not be the most comfortable emotion, as we usually tend to do our best to avoid it, sadness is valid. It teaches you to appreciate life, gives you insight into the inner worlds of others, and allows you to process life changes.
In Inside Out, an Academy Award-winning movie about Riley’s emotions as she struggles with life changes, all emotions have a hard time understanding Sadness’s purpose. Although it takes an intense adventure into the far reaches of Riley’s mind, in the end, it’s all clear: Sadness is not just about being sad but also emphasizes other feelings, such as compassion, empathy, or love, and it connects people on a deeper level. You can watch a short video on how Sadness went from being the outcast of the group to the one in power below:
Video: Joy Realizes Why Sadness Is an Important Emotion
The “you need to be happy”, toxic positivity mentality only takes away from the joys of your life.
Why Do You Feel Sadness?
There are many reasons why you could feel sad, as sadness is a part of our life. You could be sad because you lost your job. Or you could be sad because you didn't celebrate an important holiday with your loved ones. Maybe it’s been so long since you had a heartfelt conversation with a close friend.
If you feel sad, you might also:
We all want to be happy. But the pressure to be happy and cheerful every single day can be extremely tiring and detrimental to our actual well-being. Many philosophers argue that to be happy, we first need to let ourselves be sad. To learn more about this duality, you can check the video below:
Video: How to Be Sad
Sadness vs. Depression
Sadness is a natural and normal emotion. You can be sad when your friend moves across the globe, and you won’t be able to hang out with them that much anymore. You can be sad when you lose a job or an important relationship. Feeling sadness sometimes is not only normal but also a sign that there are important things in your life worth protecting. Sadness is just another way we are human.
Depression is different from sadness.
Although we casually use the words interchangeably and say things like “I’m so depressed today,” not only are they different, but it’s crucial to differentiate between them. Sadness is a normal emotion that we all experience. Clinical depression is a serious medical disorder.
When you’re sad, although you feel down, you are still able to enjoy hanging out with friends or laughing at a good movie. When you’re experiencing depression, however, usually it’s not the same: what brought you pleasure before doesn’t have the same effect now.
Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a medical condition that negatively affects your social or work-related daily functioning, has an impact on your body, and even alters your brain. Although feelings of sadness may be associated with depression, the difference between depression and sadness is not only about intensity or degree but also how it negatively affects the person’s body and mind.
Health professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to diagnose mental illnesses. To be diagnosed with clinical depression, they need to experience at least five (or more) symptoms during a 2-week period. Also, at least one symptom should be a (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure. The severity of each symptom is also important when health professionals make an assessment (DSM-5, 2013).
The symptoms are:
To better understand the differences between sadness and depression, let’s look at how differently they affect a person. When you are sad after a negative event in your life, although your sleep quality may decrease, you will likely still be able to sleep as you normally do.
Depression and sleep are closely connected. Many studies have shown that depression is overwhelmingly associated with a significant disruption of the normal sleeping pattern, specifically insomnia. For example, 75% of depressed patients have insomnia and 40% have hypersomnia (excessive sleeping and difficulty staying awake during the day) (Nutt, Wilson & Paterson, 2008). So, being sad and experiencing clinical depression impact your sleeping patterns differently.
Sadness vs Anxiety vs Anger
Sadness, anxiety, and anger are different. Just because they are different doesn’t mean an event can’t trigger all of them. For example, if you lost your job, you could feel sad about how it happened, be angry because it wasn’t fair, and experience anxiety when thinking about how you’re going to pay your bills.
Another example can be if you had to move to a completely different area for reasons that you had no control over, such as health problems of a family member. In this case, you can be sad that you’re moving away from your friends, feel angry that you have to start over again or that you don’t like the new place, and experience anxiety when thinking about meeting new people and building connections.
Sometimes, however, the distinction between them is not as clear. A quote that circles the Internet, often attributed to CS Lewis, captures how sadness and anger are intertwined: “I sat with my anger long enough until she told me her real name was grief.” Highlighting the connection between sadness and anger and how to differentiate between them, the quote aims at letting your emotions be.
Allowing yourself to feel your emotions, instead of suppressing them can increase your awareness of how to deal with them and practice acceptance. If you feel that you lost an important part of your identity, getting angry at the world can make sense in the short term. It’s important to understand that you can use this anger to enable positive change in your life.
Anxiety and anger can pose risks for your mental and physical health, too. They have been shown to increase vulnerability to illnesses and heart diseases, compromise the immune system, infection response, and recovery time, and increase the risk of death (Suinn, 2001).
Sadness vs Loneliness
Sadness is different from loneliness, although they are closely connected and usually appear together. Loneliness is about a gap between how much social connection you’d like and the actually experienced connection. Loneliness comes from our human desire to connect, an important aspect of our lives and well-being, and is not only about the number of social connections but also about their quality. For instance, you could be friendly with many colleagues and still feel lonely sometimes because you’d like to be closer to them.
Loneliness is a very common experience. If you feel lonely, you are not alone. In fact, the majority of us felt lonely at least one time in our lives. Recent reports show that 61% of young adults and 36% of all Americans feel “Serious loneliness,” meaning feeling lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time or all the time” (Weissbourd et al., 2021). No wonder why researchers have warned us about the loneliness epidemic.
Loneliness has serious consequences for your mental and physical health (Mushtaq et al., 2014), including:
Sadness and loneliness often coexist. When something bad happens, such as you lost an important person or had to move to a different area, you can feel sad about the change in your life and lonely or disconnected from your friends. Sadness can trigger loneliness and isolation, which may increase feelings of sadness. As sadness and loneliness continue this vicious cycle, both increase in intensity, feeding off each other. Although it may seem that this continuous loop is impossible to break, it’s important to know that there are things you can do to improve.
Tips & Techniques for Overcoming Sadness
Sadness is a normal aspect of our lives. “The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality,” writes Andrew Solomon in The Noonday Demon, an atlas about depression. If you find yourself feeling sad for longer than usual or with a higher intensity than before, there are a few things you can do to overcome the sadness and bring back vitality.
Articles Related to Sadness
Want to learn more about sadness and how to overcome it? Here are some more articles to read.
Books About Sadness
Final Thoughts on Sadness
We all want to be happy, but we shouldn’t suppress our more uncomfortable feelings in the process. Sadness is a normal and natural emotion, working to show us what is important and valuable in our lives.