What I feel when I feel sad(or the unexpected virtue of sadness)
I have always felt an inexplicable attraction to being aloof,alone and sad( the three doesn’t always coincide, but then, sometimes they do). I cannot say that I enjoy being sad. I enjoy when I am happy: I hang out with friends, consume exorbitant amounts of alcohol, watch movies, have fun, enjoy myself. What I do when I am sad is not exactly enjoyment. It’s something much deeper than that. And somewhere down the line, I have a strong hunch that I am not alone in this. I have always found it hard to explain this virtue of sadness. But I do have a hypothesis.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s divide the world in a very banal way into two groups of people: happy and sad. These two states are not static but dynamic: meaning people continuously and unconsciously keep changing from one state to the other in different periods of time. The jump obviously is not direct but passes through many intermediate states that connect these two extremes( a direct jump would mean you are bipolar). Now let's again very blatantly divide the world into two groups: consumers and producers. Here, both terms majorly direct to intellectual products. Again, there is no static state here, and people keep on moving from one to the other.
My theory is this: Both these two types: happy/sad and producer/consumer , are not mutually exclusive but very interdependent on each other. In other words, I am saying that, very simple put: happy people consume, and sad people produce.
The human mind needs an outlet for any strong emotion it is feeling: whether happy or sad. It wants to stay in the perfect balance. The central midpoint of happiness and sadness. Any diversion from that state in either direction, the mind will try to pull you to the other way by “releasing” the emotions. Different people call this state by different names: Nirvana, Zen, Moksha, Enlightenment etc. The but fact is that being living in a complex society drowned in a cobweb of ‘agents of emotions’, we can never stay in that perfect state. Imagine the world to be a place with extreme climates. And there are no fixed seasons. If today it was snowing, tomorrow could be hot, humid and sweaty. And your mind is like a thermometer. It constantly keeps on changing from temperature to temperature, depending on the weather outside.
Sometimes when these transitions happen between two points that are on the opposite sides of the midpoint, or what I am calling the “Zen point”, our thermometer although is unable to stay for long but, it does pass through this “Zen point”. I’ll elaborate it with an example: Let’s say you have had a bad day at work. You get out of office, painstakingly find a cab to take you home and get into it. There is heavy traffic on the road and you are stuck for a long time. You temperature obviously reads: sad(or extreme sad). As your cab crawls towards your apartment, you slowly recap the happenings of the day and unwind: your big stressful day is over, you didn’t get fired like you feared, and now you can go home, take a long bath and probably binge watch F.R.I.E.N.D.S with your partner till late night since tomorrow is a holiday.( The mention of F.R.I.E.N.D.S here is purely for familiarity purposes and doesn’t reflect my personal taste in any sense). So as all these facts slowly come to you, your anxieties start to evade. Your mind is making that transition from sad->happy. By the time you get home and relax in the shower, your mind will have made the transition already into the other side of the spectrum.But now, exactly in that moment when the traffic is starting to unlock, the car is picking up speed, you try to let go of your bad day and look forward to your evening. You gently close your eyes and your head leans on against the window of your cab, and in that moment for a fraction of second you just passed through this “Zen point”. When you are neither happy nor sad. You are Zen.
Now let’s come back to my original hypothesis of happiness as an agent of consumption and sadness as an agent of creation. In our everyday world when we are tired or hungry, we consume to feel better, and when you are full, we produce ( either work, or shit) to release the energy. And the cycle goes on. Inside the mind however, according to me, this works in the counter-intuitive way. When we are said, our outlet of this is production, or rather creative production: poems, writings, painting, songs, ideas etc. When we are happy, our outlet is consumption: movies, food, alcohol, songs, speed, games etc.
The quintessential example of using sadness to drive creativity is Vincent Van Gogh: arguably the most famous painter of our time, Van Gogh mostly spent his life in various mental institutions being unable to sell more than 1 painting( His sole customer was his brother). But what Van Gogh did was translate his pain into beautiful imageries full of life and wonder. History is full of examples: Syd Barrett, David Foster Wallace, Charles Bukowski, Eric Clapton( He wrote his famous “Tears in Heaven” for his young son that died in an accident), Robert Pirsig( author of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, he underwent shock therapy which is penned with an exquisite poignancy in his book) etc. Again, these people are often mentioned as examples of how much they struggled in their personal lives. So, their ‘sadness’ was a public phenomenon. Many of our’s aren’t. So we can never be sure if many of the songs we listen to, or movies we enjoy when we are happy were actually created by someone engulfed in deep sadness. In a music band’s life cycle, a noticeable pattern you can see is most bands tend to create their best music in the years they are struggling. Here, the quintessential example is Oasis. Once fame hits, you start getting used to being ‘happy’. And you start losing your affinity for creative production( there is a reason why I am stating this as ‘affinity for creative production’ rather than creativity. I think a person’s creativity stays with him regardless of his mood. But the mood effects how you use it).
So I guess the point here is: don’t be sad when you are sad. Turn your anger into music. Pen your loneliness into a poem. Don’t be scared of sadness. Embrace it and turn it into work of art.
I’ll end this with an excerpt from a conversation with poet David Whyte:
“ I don’t think happiness is actually a big enough word. Happiness is a part of it. But you can have a tremendous presence when you are the saddest person in the world, when you have lost soome one close to you…when you can feel that sadness with an exquisite kind of beauty…a feirce terrible beauty, and when you feel that intensity you realise that happiness and unhappiness are irrelevent.”— David Whyte
PS: Yes, the title is an intended wordplay on Murakami and Birdman. Both my favourites.