Working Through Sadness and Finding Happiness

Understanding the full complexity of our sadness will allow us to begin to heal and work towards finding our happy again.

As much as I like to talk about the positive side of life, I’m very aware of the opposite side. Sadness is a part of life and if we’re lucky, it makes up a much smaller portion than its counterpart.

Sadness can’t be avoided but it can be understood. I recently read this article, by Lisa Feldman Barrett. It discusses the benefits of being able to identify, very specifically, which emotion we’re feeling. This is paramount when dealing with sadness. Understanding the full complexity of our sadness will allow us to begin to heal and work towards finding our happy again.

Sadness is different than grief and depression. The subject of sadness is a difficult topic to analyze. How do we know when a bout of sadness is actually a more serious issue like depression? Depression is an extremely serious affliction and needs to be addressed by a professional. Understanding the differences between depression, sadness, and grief has been wonderfully articulated by Andrew Solomon. You can read or listen to his experiences here.

In life, everyone is going to experience different levels of sadness. It can be a tough breakup, the loss of a close friend, the loss of a family member, extreme illness— All of these have different and varying degrees of sadness attached to them. They’re also compounded with other feelings like loneliness and fear, which can make these times feel even more severe.

Loss of a loved one and grief. I believe the first time you lose someone close to you is the hardest. For me, it was my Pa Joe. His funeral was the first time I saw someone in a casket. There were so many reasons to be sad about his passing but it took me years to fully understand them. Eventually, after many drunken nights reminiscing and not understanding why I was still saddened to talk about him, I realized why. When Pa Joe lived with us, I felt a sense of responsibility for him. After he transitioned to a nursing home, the responsibility was removed and I was left helpless to do anything as he slowly declined. Understanding the cause of the grief allowed me to overcome it and find happiness in the time we had together–it allowed me to find happiness after loss.

What can we do to recover from sadness? I believe the first step is to accept it for what it is. If you’re sad about something, be sad. Write out your emotions, identify the feelings you’re going through, understand there will be overlapping reasons. There is no one-answer-fits-all for this process but accurately identifying the emotions is the start.

For the emotions you have control over, make a plan for ways to curb them. For many of the times I’ve dealt with sadness, I found myself coming back to an underlying sense of loneliness. The mind goes to some really dark places when you feel lonely or abandoned. Initially, solitary reflection wasn’t an option. Luckily, I’ve had a supportive friend-group to get me through those times. Reflection needs to happen, when you’re able to. Being able to be alone and not feel lonely is a learned skill which takes time and practice but it will lead to more happiness in life.

It will not happen over night. It also won’t happen within the same time frame for everyone. Know that it is a process and as long as you’re working towards feeling better, you’re making progress.

Knowing sadness can lead to a better understanding of happiness. The idea of suffering has been consistent throughout history. Many religions use this concept in their teachings. I believe working through sadness builds our character, forces us to see ourselves as vulnerable, and also gives us an appreciation for the happy times in life. Recovering from sadness gives us a better understanding of gratitude in life and having more gratitude naturally increases our happiness. A really effective way to increase gratitude is by writing a gratitude letter. You can read my article on the benefits of writing a gratitude letter here.

Happiness has a way of coming back stronger than ever. If you’re sad, grieving, scared–be those things. Identify and understand the real emotions underneath the broader ones. Control what you can or reach out for support if you need it. Either way, know these things are temporary. There will be more happiness than sadness. Don’t sit back and let the bad times consume you–take control of the situation and you’ll see how much happiness can come after sadness.

A version of this post was previously published on and is republished here with permission from the author.


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