Monday, April 28, 2008

Being sad is a necessary part of life

this article appeared in Straits Times, 28 Apr 2008. On reading the first few lines, i think i wanted someone to read it. So it's here...

True happiness doesn't mean being happy all the time
By Jessica Lim

BOOKSTORE owners like to fill their shelves with cheery tomes on how to achieve happiness.

From self-help sections, books yell out ways to Create Your Own Happiness, urge you to be Happy For No Reason, and direct you on the right path with the Geography Of Happiness.

My personal favourite? Happiness For Dummies.

But at least one author thinks the path to joy is to embrace its counterpoint - sadness.

In Against Happiness, author Eric G. Wilson argues that the drive towards purging sadness is misguided, even destructive.

Urging readers to re-think their one-track pursuit of security and contentment, he writes: 'We realise that those committed to happiness at any cost and those bent on sadness no matter what are not very different from each other.

'Both are afraid of the wispy middle.'

I agree with Mr Wilson.

Sadness is a useful and enlightening part of human experience.

Unfortunately, for most youth, sadness does not factor into the formula for success.

From as early as our teen years, we are taught to define happiness using empirical fact: Stellar grades, university admission, a successful career.

Check, check, check.

But are we really happy?

Seven months after I graduated from college in May 2005, my father died of a heart attack.

Determined to prove to the world that I was okay, I showed up for my first day of work a week after he was buried.

I didn't want to be sad, and so I immersed myself in my great new job. I revelled in my success. I might have even happily remarked to myself: 'I am not thinking about it any more!'

But a year later, the truth hit home.

I saw my family's blue Honda pulling into the driveway. I thought Daddy was home and rushed out to greet him. I pulled up short when I saw my mother in the driver's seat.

That was when I realised that by rejecting sadness, I had not let myself believe my father had died.

Sorrow is neither a disease, nor a state to be avoided.

Facing my grief meant having to re-define what happiness means to me - not in good schools or fat pay cheques, but being aware of things inevitably passing, of mortality, of life.

And before long, happiness came to me when I finally saw again the world's beauty through my sadness.

Recently, when surveys found that nine in 10 Singaporeans felt overly stressed and needed more fun, we all rushed to find the country's happiest person.

But why this continuous push to be always happy?

Sadness is part of life's rich experience: Only with a clear eye on the valleys of life can youth begin to truly appreciate the view from the top.

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