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Asher Breuer-Weil urges us to embrace sadness, and argues how social media can distort our own emotional self-worth.

As an experiment, type into Google ‘films about happiness’ – what you should see is an inexhaustibly long list of films all centred somehow around happiness, the pursuit of it and how to achieve it.

Having done this, type in ‘films about sadness’ – now you should see a selection of about six or seven films, one of which is Pixar’s Inside Out, and another is a Japanese tale about a dog. There clearly exists a preference here.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t any films about sadness, rather it suggests that this is a topic limited to the arthouse, to the less popular, outside the main stream of discussion.

Equally, browse faux-psychiatric pages on Google, and the overwhelming majority of articles you’ll see will be on ‘how to be happy’, ‘how to cure depression’ and ‘ways to cope when depression hits’. Again, the idea of welcoming sadness is almost non-existent.

Why I’m saying this is because it’s representative of a more general attitude in today’s society that seeks to subvert sadness in the face of all things ‘happy’. Our world is tailored to the pursuit of happiness; a pursuit that can only lead to one feeling inadequate or lesser than everyone else.

‘today’s society.. seeks to subvert sadness in the face of all things happy’

Now is this actually wrong? Surely a society that strives for happiness is a good one? In moderation, yes, yet we have taken it too far.

The more one uses Instagram and Facebook, the more one sees how ‘happy’ everyone’s life is. Very few people, at least in my experience, ever post anything sad. Even when I know a friend is having a rough time, you’ll look at their social media presence and it will clearly show an opposite reality.

So, what’s happening is that we are lying in the face of public judgement. We see that everyone else is unwaveringly ‘happy’, and as such are faced with the pressure to make sure that we are equally, if not more ‘happy’ than they are.

The problem with this is that it’s cyclical: the more I lie about my perceived happiness, the more everyone else tries to exceed it.  Yet, the more they attempt to exceed it, the more I should have to strive to exceed them.

‘the more I lie about my perceived happiness, the more everyone else tries to exceed it.’

Of course, this is all ridiculous when looked at from the outside. When embroiled in the world of social media, these ludicrous habits become remarkably hard to kick. It becomes difficult to realise the absurdity of it all.

As an English student who has spent time studying older works of literature, the terms ‘sadness’ and ‘melancholy’ seem to occur in a far greater capacity than they do today- a fact I found to be telling.

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Back in the sixteenth century, the idea of being sad was almost a positive one. There are texts advising on how best to be sad, of the virtues of it and how it brings you closer to God. Sadness is an emotion that humbles you, and allows you to think in greater depth. Those who experienced great sadness were typically those branded with the tag of ‘genius’. The discourse of happiness is obviously discussed as well, but bears no preference in the face of sadness. This shows that over time we have come to bury feelings of unhappiness, due to its perceived weakness.

‘The discourse of happiness is obviously discussed.. but bears no preference in the face of sadness.’

Sadness however is a word that lacks romanticism. To be happy is obviously a romantic dream, an aspiration (albeit one in vain) that we all hope for.

What’s been neglected is the romanticism of melancholy; the idea that you welcome the uninvited sadness when it comes, for it will always come, and embrace the spell it puts you under. As Keats wrote in one of the great Odes:


‘When the melancholy fit shall fall 


       Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud



 Feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes



        She dwells with Beauty’


Indulging in melancholy is a virtue. It carries a ‘Beauty’, what Keats would probably define as thoughtfulness and humbleness, a time to reflect on the things in your life that you would never consider whilst in a state of happiness.

What Keats wouldn’t have known however is that there’s scientific grounding to his claims. Quoting the cultural historian Tiffany Watt Smith, ‘stronger physical and mental health is correlated with experiencing a range of emotions instead of just being happy or content all the time. It means allowing yourself to feel sad, angry, irritable, bored, and frustrated. All the things we’re told we ought not to feel.’

Understanding that life is a struggle will enable you to cope better with that struggle when it eventually comes. Understanding that melancholy is inevitable makes you stronger as a person.

Much like anything, overdosing on happiness is detrimental. The social pressure to be happy is enormous. If you live by what you see on your screen, as many people now do, you’ll be in an eternal struggle to prove that your life is as theirs is- that your life is as happy.

‘Understanding that melancholy is inevitable makes you stronger as a person.’

What then happens when things go wrong? When you have nothing to post online? Rather than melancholy, depression and anxiety will take its place. It’s telling that the rising anxiety and depression figures coincide with younger and younger generations growing up in a happy-centric world. It’s unsustainable. No one can live a perfect life.

If you find yourself tailoring your Instagram to make it as perfect as possible, realise that you yourself might be the victim of your own actions, that you are part of the circle. Of course, this is nothing new. The pitfalls of social media are well-documented. Rather, it’s the emphasis on understanding melancholy that I think is so vital to becoming a truly happier society.

If it’s worth anything, of all the emotions in Inside Out, it’s sadness that saves the day. Sadness can be the hero, but only if you let it.

Do you believe that sadness can be beneficial in maintaining your emotional wellbeing? Comment, or get in touch with Epigram’s Twitter and Facebook pages.

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