Updated: Aug 28
While every one of us humans is connected to each other in our shared experience of life - don't ask me what that is, I just know that we are here and we are in it together - each of our internal worlds is singularly unique. We are tapestries woven with a myriad of emotions, and just as the seasons change, so do our emotional landscapes. While we often fling ourselves wholeheartedly into seasons of joy, happiness, and excitement, sadness often goes unacknowledged or worse shunned, like a feared disease knocking at our door, knuckles bruised but ever persistent. However, like any other season, sadness serves a purpose, and learning to honor and embrace it can lead to profound growth and resilience.
Nature teaches us time after time that change is inevitable, and even further, that each season is gifted with its own unique qualities and purpose. Spring calls forth new beginnings and signs of rebirth and growth. Summer dazzles with warmth light and life forms in full bloom. Autumn envelops us in the pleasing contrast of the world in muted yet colorful transformations, and winter invites quiet introspection and rest. Similarly, our emotional states undergo cycles, and just as the natural world experiences its different seasons, we, too, encounter a wide range of emotions, each equally deserving of our attention, including sadness.
Sadness, while often seen as a negative emotion, is an essential part of the human experience. It might arise from loss, disappointment, or simply emerge in the ebb and flow of life. While it may be tempting to resist or suppress sadness, doing so prevents us from fully engaging with our emotions and understanding their purpose. Like a season, sadness has its own beauty and significance. In fact, studies have found that individuals who are able to identify, understand, and express their emotions in a healthy way tend to have lower levels of psychological distress and greater overall well-being ¹. In contrast, repressing emotions can lead to increased stress levels, higher risk of mental health disorders, and even physical health problems such as cardiovascular issues and compromised immune function² ³.
While it may undoubtedly seem easier or even healthier to look away from our own sadness or cover it up like a blanket of snow over a brown faded patch of grass, it is crucial to embrace sadness with compassion and curiosity. Our choice to either accept and allow expression of or disavow and suppress our emotions can influence physiological processes and can either support or hinder the body's natural healing mechanisms. Instead of perceiving sadness as a burden, we can view it as an opportunity for reflection and healing.
In fact, when we learn embrace it, sadness can act as a catalyst for personal growth and self-discovery. It encourages introspection and prompts us to reevaluate our lives and examine our values, priorities and relationships, making room for necessary changes or adjustments. Instead of distracting our minds away from it because it doesn't feel good, we might treat our sadness like a friend, greeting it at the door and ask it why it is there, and what it needs from us. Practices like mindfulness, meditation, and cognitive and body-oriented therapies can help us recognize and explore our emotions. Through this process of self-inquiry, we can uncover valuable insights and develop a greater sense of empathy for ourselves and others.
When we acknowledge and honor our own sadness, we become more attuned to the experiences of others. It deepens our capacity for compassion, allowing us to offer support and understanding to those navigating their own seasons of sadness. Research indicates that sharing our feelings, whether through talking, writing, or other forms of creative expression, can facilitate emotional processing, enhance relationships, and provide a sense of validation and understanding⁴ ⁵. By embracing sadness, we create space for authentic connections and forge deeper bonds with those around us.
Just as the seasons of nature flow in harmony, the seasons of our emotions also require balance and a certain amount of flexibility and acceptance. Because everything changes, it does not serve us well to grip tightly onto any timeline or state of being. It's like trying to still an ocean by gripping at the waves and finding ourselves exhausted, frustrated, perhaps anguished or evening drowning. Likewise, embracing sadness does not mean dwelling solely in its depths but rather acknowledging its presence ("hello, I see you") while being open to the other emotions that will inevitably follow ("you too are welcome here"). Allowing ourselves to move through the emotional landscape with acceptance and grace enables us to experience the full spectrum of human existence.
To conclude, sadness is a season, so often unfairly maligned, that in fact demands our attention and compassion. Honoring it as an integral part of our emotional journey allows us to develop resilience, deepen our understanding of ourselves and others, and foster authentic connections. Just as we celebrate the joy and excitement of life's other seasons, we must remember that sadness, too, has its purpose and beauty. Embrace the season of sadness, because when we let it in and let it reveal itself to us, it can help us unveil secrets about ourselves and the world around us we would never have seen otherwise.
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2. Pennebaker, J. W., & Beall, S. K. (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95(3), 274-281.
3. John, O. P., & Gross, J. J. (2004). Healthy and unhealthy emotion regulation: Personality processes, individual differences, and life span development. Journal of Personality, 72(6), 1301-1333.
4. Rimé, B. (2009). Emotion elicits the social sharing of emotion: Theory and empirical review. Emotion Review, 1(1), 60-85.
5. Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological Science, 8(3), 162-166.