I believe most people want to feel “good” feelings like happiness, excitement and joy all of the time because we associate pleasant experiences and behaviors with these emotions. Who wouldn’t want to laugh or feel the thrill of achieving an accomplishment you have worked long and hard for? But what about feelings like sadness and loneliness? Are they bad? I don’t believe they are. Although emotions may feel horrible or enjoyable, emotions are not good or bad. It’s our perspectives about the contexts we experience them in and the meaning that we apply to our lives that contribute to labeling them as good or bad. So, instead of defining an emotion as good or bad, I encourage people to pay attention to what the emotions are telling us about our situations and our beliefs, particularly, the unpleasant ones.
As I noted in a post a couple of weeks ago, many people stay busy and miss out on well needed rest because they feel sad and/or lonely. Sadness and loneliness are two of the most common yet avoided emotions I come across in my work with teens, adults, couples and families. It doesn’t matter what stage of life you’re currently in, if you haven’t experienced them yet it is only a matter of time. So, let’s get ourselves prepared.
Let’s consider some appropriate and healthy experiences of sadness. If someone close to you dies or you lose something that is meaningful to you or if you have suffered some sort of trauma, feeling sad makes perfect sense. While some people fear drifting off into depression forever, others find that acknowledging and validating their loss is the beginning step to grieving and healing. Because feeling sadness and loss can impact us physically, it makes sense that people try to avoid it, however, refusing to accept reality doesn’t make the pain go away. In fact, eventually it makes things worse. I am sure most people are aware of the issues that suppressing emotions can lead to however many people don’t stop to consider that suppressing sadness or any other emotion for that reason can decrease your ability to feel the emotions you want to feel.
Being able to feel a full range of emotions at varying intensities is healthy. Let’s take loneliness for example. To expect to live a life without feeling lonely is unrealistic. Although it is one of the most difficult feelings to experience, it is important to be able to tolerate it. Even worse than the feeling of loneliness is the thought of being stuck in loneliness forever. Often attached to this horrible thought is the belief that we are unworthy or undeserving of companionship or love. Another belief that lends to the fear of having to tolerate the pain of loneliness forever is the belief that we need to be around others all of the time or have a certain person in our lives to give us value or make us feel loved.
I do believe that we need other people and that life is enriched by sharing it with others. Yet, when we truly value and cherish who we are as unique individuals life is enjoyable when we are alone and when we are with others. Our time with others is more enjoyable without the pressure for them to make us feel a particular way. When everyone is free to disagree and respectfully share their opinions there is room for authenticity and growth.
In essence, sadness and loneliness are a healthy part of life that remind us that we are human. Chronic sadness and loneliness indicate that we need to change our situation or that we possess some beliefs that keep these emotions in play. I wish you the best as you consider these thoughts this week.