What Is Wrong With Being Sad?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a great article up today on the value of melancholy and tragedy, which today are considered “negative” and treated as a disease. I saw this on Arts & Letters Daily, which I cannot recommend people to read enough.

The gist of the article is that Americans today are obsessed with eradicating all signs of melancholy, or all feelings of dissatisfaction. I cannot emphasize enough, as the author does, that there is indeed actual cases of clinical depression and that they should be treated professionally and medically. However, I do agree with the article that Americans have an unwarranted prejudice against people who don’t seem “upbeat” all the time. Also, I agree with the distinction that the author makes between melancholia and clinical depression. According to the author, the difference is one of degree.

“Both forms are more or less chronic sadness that leads to continuing unease with how things are — persistent feelings that the world is not quite right, that it is a place of suffering, stupidity, and evil. Depression (as I see it, at least) causes apathy in the face of this unease, lethargy approaching total paralysis, an inability to feel much of anything one way or another. In contrast, melancholia generates a deep feeling in regard to this same anxiety, a turbulence of heart that results in an active questioning of the status quo, a perpetual longing to create new ways of being and seeing.”

I wouldn’t go so far as to characterize it as sadness, since I do not feel “down” whenever I am confronted with how the world actually is. But I do, as the author states, feel that the world we live in is not quite right, that there are indeed things below, above, and aside from the surface.

Having just read The Birth of Tragedy, I feel that the author makes a somewhat Nietzschean claim–that beauty cannot exist without tragedy, that the attempt to eliminate all feelings of dissatisfaction and pessimism will eliminate beauty altogether.

This explains in part why I have trouble hiding my disdain towards people who are “sunny,” “happy-go-lucky,” and “upbeat” all the fucking time. Life is far more than happiness, and I might even go as far to say that the purpose of life isn’t to be happy–in fact, there is no purpose, other than living itself.

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