"Embracing the blues"


Is it okay to be sad? What a question! It’s part of life, right?

In a recent article “Embracing the Blues” (Utne Reader) author Julie Hanus asks the question–“Is the single-minded pursuit of happiness blocking true bliss?” Is America so focused on pathologizing sadness and so set on medicating us all into “happy” states, that we’re cutting ourselves off from some of the richness of life–which includes being sad?

Well, let’s see. True bliss. Whew. Big concept. Definitions: state of extreme happiness, ecstasy–a state of being carried away by overwhelming emotion. That second one rings a bell for me.

Have you felt bliss, seen it in your life? Was that it, that moment of powerful, transcendent connection between you and your beloved during sex? Was that it, holding that little baby in your arms and feeling like you now understand the meaning of life? Was it the time you got that bad news about your job and suddenly felt your dog lean against your leg and put her head on your knee?

Was it the moment you arrived home from your job and found your sister with Alzheimer’s had set the table for you for dinner–something that normally never crossed her mind? What about the day your 11-year-old daughter welcomed you home from work on your birthday with balloons and signs all over proclaiming what a special day it was?

Was that bliss when you found out you had to have surgery and a long-lost friend wrote you a card that was so beautiful you cried? Did you feel it the day your father died? Was it a private time writing in your journal when you saw yourself clearly with all your faults and your good points–and felt complete peace and acceptance for that one moment?

I had a moment of crystal clarity once when I was 21 years old, living in England and alone for a month because my then-new-husband had gone off to Amsterdam. I told myself it was a revelation and that I should write it down. Now, several decades later, I still think the insight is a good one: Happiness is not a place you get to. It’s what happens to you on your way.

And now I’d add, and it includes many of those defining moments of desolation, loss, and sadness.

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