Columns
August 22, 2019
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Mind Body and Spirit

Steven Campbell
The Joy of Sadness
May 10, 2019

When our youngest daughter was born, she wasn’t breathing, so she was rushed to Children’s Hospital in San Diego, and my sister Sallee met me there. The doctor said that Sarah had a 40 to 50 percent chance of living. 

Sallee had been a Pediatric RN for 13 years, so she sat me down in the Waiting Room, looked at me for a few moments, and then said very quietly, “I have something to say to you!”

“What, Sallee?”

“You can’t give up on this child!”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that you must stand by Sarah’s isolette the whole time and touch her, and talk to her, and sing to her, and tell her about her sister Abbey, and her mom, and your dog Tobe, and your home. You must make her so aware that you are right there, and the wonderful things she is coming home to.”

“But Sallee, she’s only 4 hours old!”

“No, Steve. She’s almost a year old, and she has been hearing the voices of Mary and you that whole time!”

So I stood next to Sarah’s isolette in the NICU at Children’s Hospital for the next nine days and touched and talked to her the whole time.

Sarah came home on the tenth. (I’m teary eyed as I write this!)

However, as I stood by her isolette, I sensed there was something I could not give her as a father.

So I went to therapy, and discovered 40 years ago what I am sharing with you here.

Sarah didn’t need a father who didn’t share his feelings when he was sad, or insisted that life is always happy and wonderful. She needed a father who said it is okay to cry; and that it wasn’t shameful or unmanly to feel the sadness all of us feel at times.

In fact, sadness is actually good for us.

According to 10 studies on sadness reported by Research Digest, there is more value gained from honoring sadness than dishonoring it. The studies found that people who allow themselves to be sad benefit in many ways:

1. Sadness enhances empathy.

2. Sadness triggers self-reflection.

3. A good cry discharges toxins, relieves tension, and lowers stress. (I cried a lot after my open-heart surgery, and it felt so wonderful!)

4. Sadness induces greater patience.

5. Sadness awakens gratitude by reminding us of the fragility of life.

And sadness is good especially when we learn how to share those feelings with the ones we love.  Indeed, the ones we love want to know what we’re feeling!

Another story. A woman visited the office of Sean Grover and expressed her concern that she was feeling sad since her mother passed away.

“When did she die?” I asked.

“About three months ago,” she said, “From cancer. “

“Isn’t it alright to feel sad?”

She sighed impatiently. “I don’t have time for this. Can you

prescribe antidepressants?”

Sadly to say, sadness isn’t valued very much these days.

It is being pushed aside by the dazzling smiles and gleeful selfies on social media. Its message is clear: happiness is for winners, sadness is for losers.

However, have you ever noticed that many types of art and music celebrate sadness? They touch us deeply because they give us permission to mourn, to grieve, or feel heartbroken, hurt, or disappointed.

When I was ten, I listened to Joan Baez as she sang at San Diego State University, and fell in love with her voice…and the sadness of her music.

When my dad bought me a ten-dollar guitar, I taught myself how to play; mostly by learning her sad songs.

11 years later, I did a two-year tour singing and speaking on college campuses. (And it was on that tour that I met Mary!)

But it was the sadness of Joan Baez’s music that began it all.

Alternatively, suppressed or denied sadness can erupt into a flurry of psychosomatic symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, or backaches. It can also disrupt our sleep, cause erratic moods and weaken our concentration.

So the goal of psychotherapy is not to eliminate uncomfortable feelings, but to expand our capacity to feel. In fact, therapists seek to honor all our emotions without placing a value judgment on them or labeling them as positive or negative. 

The more we embrace and welcome all of our feelings equally, the more attuned we are to others and the world around us.

In fact, when we allow sadness to become a part of our experience; when we actually honor the sadness all of us feel at times, we are opening ourselves up to a wellspring of strength, especially to those who love us.

Wow!

Steven Campbell is the author of “Making Your Mind Magnificent.” His seminar “Taming Your Mind, Unleashing Your Life” is now available on line at stevenrcampbell.teachable.com.  For more information, call Steven Campbell at 707-480-5507.