In the early 1990's a small handful of researchers and practitioners began questioning the inherent focus on pathology in the world of Psychology and Psychotherapy. Researchers like Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi argued the benefits of helping people focus on their strengths to create richer more meaningful lives. What began as a niche toward positivity and perhaps even the first stages of identifying characteristics of resilience, soon became a wave of positively focused ideology. The initial influence trending toward positive thinking and relying on more upbeat characteristics of attitude seemed like a breath of fresh air in the otherwise shadowy realms of mental health.

 

Unfortunately, as so frequently happens with trends and fad ideology, positive psychology expanded beyond itself, tipping into a world where uncomfortable emotions were even futher pathologized, ruled by "a tyranny of positive attitude" that required maintaining that positive outlook regardless of immediate experience (Held, 2004). Before long the expanding world of positive psychology coupled with poorly understood concepts of quantum theory and by the year 2000, positive emotion became the mandatory outlook required to avoid not only mental/emotional disease but also physical disease. 

Within the span of a decade, the normal spectrum of human emotion became a source of further misery and worry, being implicated as the culprit for a wide variety of disease ranging from indigestion to cancer. As a health educator and wellness practitioner (not consumed with positive psychology) I soon noted rising levels of anxiety in my clients who were unable to maintain a positive outlook while suffering from things like the loss of a loved one, or major illness, or loss of a particular life status (relationship, career). Now, clients were plagued with not only the worry of becoming depressed if they were sad for longer than a day, but also of contracting some deadly disease, irreversible unless they could immediately adjust their attitude. The undue suffering for these clients was and is, heartbreaking. 

I have long held that nature is an amazing intelligence far beyond anything I could conjure up in my own little pre-frontal cortex and it seemed to me, that if nature deemed it necessary for humans to have a wide emotional repertoire, including heavy or uncomfortable feelings, well then, there was some wisdom to be found there. In fact, I believe wholeheartedly that it is in the learning to navigate and appropriately embrace our feelings, whatever they are, that we cultivate even deeper levels of resilience. 

Thankfully, I am not alone in this line of thinking and there is a new wave of psychological influence quietly stirring. This newly published article by Dr. Tim Lomas, highlights some recent studies concerning the power and potential of our emotional spectrum. 

The quiet virtues of sadness: A selective theoretical and interpretative appreciation of its potential contribution to wellbeing

 Abstract

Critical emotion theorists have raised concerns that “normal” human emotions like sadness are increasingly being pathologised as disorders. Counter efforts have consequently been made to normalise such emotions, such as by highlighting their ubiquity and appropriacy. This paper goes slightly further by suggesting that sadness may not merely be normal, but could have inherent value, and might even be an integral component of a flourishing life. It offers a selective theoretical and interpretative review of literature on the potential “virtues” of sadness. Three overarching themes are identified, each comprising four subthemes: (a) sadness as a mode of protection (including as a warning, as prompting disengagement, as a mode of conservation, and as enhancing accuracy); (b) sadness as an expression of care (including as a manifestation of love, of longing, of compassion, and eliciting care); and (c) sadness as a vehicle for flourishing (including as a moral sensibility, as engendering psychological development, as an aesthetic sensibility, and as integral to fulfilment). It is thus hoped that the paper can contribute to a more “positive” cultural discourse around sadness, suggesting that, for many people, experiences of sadness may serve an important function in their lives.