By Jannah updated on July 14, 2020
Everyone has heard about depression. It has become a part of our everyday language; something that would not have seemed possible years ago. In contrast, a word more popular back in the day but that has now gone out of fashion is melancholy.
Melancholy is often described in dictionaries as a pensive sadness. Philosopher Alain de Botton describes it as a type of low-level, muted sadness that arises when we are open to the fact that life is inherently difficult and that suffering and disappointment are core parts of universal experience. He says that it’s not a disorder that needs to be cured. The good life, he says, is not one that is immune to grief, but one in which we allow suffering to contribute to our development.
These days, there is huge investment in the art of being happy, successful, positive and perfect versions of ourselves. A quick online search will throw up many sure-fire steps to become happier and more positive. Advertising is dependent on our quest for that elusive good mood.
Many feel the pressure to show endless optimism and good cheer. This is the same as saying ‘I’m grand’ when you’re really not. But in a strange way, allowing some melancholy into our lives can help us feel happier than any false show of happiness can ever do.
Allowing time in your day for melancholy means more time for reflection, time to appreciate the beauty in the world, time to allow all feelings no matter what they are, time to be true to who you really are, not the pretended version that everyone normally sees. Trying to deny melancholy has led to much internal suffering, because it doesn’t leave any room for the feelings that are seen as ‘negative’.
This striving for happiness, means that when we feel anything other than that, we think there is something inherently flawed about us. That we need to get help and get ‘fixed’ as quickly as possible.
But what if we allowed a little time for pensive sadness? What if we knew that a certain amount of suffering and heartache is part and parcel of life? What if we understood that we weren’t born with a safe pass that guaranteed our protection from all negative feelings?
Then we could relax into whatever life is bringing to us today. We could stop pretending. We could use the feelings, positive or negative, to our advantage. We could feel more empathy for those who are struggling, because we know and acknowledge that feeling in ourselves.
I’m not advocating getting stuck in melancholy, or only feeling sadness, or confusing it with total despair or a deep prolonged depression. But rather, allowing some melancholy as it happens and also allowing some happiness as it happens; realising that all feelings and all experiences are part of life and part of humanity as a whole.
The good life is not immune to sadness, it embraces everything, including melancholy.