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More sadness, please!

Miriam Diez Bosch - published on 08/07/17

The unusual "value" of this emotion, according to Civiltá Cattolica.

Our first reaction to sadness is that it isn’t a desirable feeling; on the contrary, our instinct is to flee from any feelings of anxiety, unhappiness, or depression. Nevertheless, these feelings are necessary, and even beneficial.

Fr. Giovanni Cucci S.J., who writes for Civiltá Cattolica (a Jesuit-run magazine directed by Fr. Antonio Spadaro S.J.), believes that “sadness is a part of life, and it helps us to capture the richness of life’s nuances.”

Not only that: being sad can be beneficial, because it teaches us valuable lessons. Suppressing sorrow would be like doing away with the nighttime. “Eliminating sadness means closing yourself to the possibility of having access to the feelings and attitudes that are its opposite, such as joy, peace, creativity, and enjoying life.”

Being sad due to particular circumstances isn’t the same as pathological depression (which lacks a proportionate external cause). Depression should receive appropriate medical attention, the author emphasizes.

Do you know what alexithymia is?

A worrying sign of the marginalization of sadness is the growing occurrence of “alexithymia” among adolescents and young adults: the inability to recognize and express one’s own feelings—a condition of chronic emotional coldness and superficiality.

This tendency to a lack of feelings can be fed by the digital revolution, which, together with the indubitable range of possibilities and resources, has made more accessible new forms of “mind traps.”

The enormous supply of information provided by social networks “can be a way of fleeing from sadness” and the “inability to be alone.”

Consuming digital media—to which people dedicate many hours each day—can be a way of “running away from disagreeable feelings, such as loneliness and sadness.”

On the positive side, the article continues, is the fact that “unhappiness, sadness and loneliness,” which make us suffer, can also be the “gateway” to “our greatest potential,” such as “creativity, truth, empathy, and compassion.”

Accepting our vulnerability and fragility can be a path to creativity.

St. Thomas and sadness

Sadness isn’t just a modern issue. The great medieval theologian St. Thomas Aquinas dedicated four “quaestiones” of his Summa Theologiae to this subject (I-II, qq. 35-39). Sadness is, in his view, “a form of suffering,” namely “suffering of the soul.”

Sadness allows us to understand other people’s suffering, and can help us to feel contrition.

St. Ignatius and desolation

The article in La Civiltà Cattolica also mentions an idea from St. Ignatius of Loyola, who offers a “complex” evaluation of sadness, which he calls “desolation.” For Ignatius, sadness is important because it maintains our soul open and “keeps us vigilant and invites us to humility.” These are indispensable conditions for progress in the spiritual life.

Lastly, Fr. Cucci explains that sadness can remind us of “the value of time, of people, and possibilities that are not always open to us.”

Now you know: be sad, and make the most of life.

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