Sadness is emotional pain
Psychological pain
Psychological pain, sometimes called psychalgia, is any mental, or mind, or non-physical suffering. Emotional pain is a particular kind of psychological pain, more closely related to emotions...

 associated with, or characterized by feelings of disadvantage, loss, despair, helplessness, sorrow, and rage. When sad, people often become outspoken, less energetic, and emotional. Crying
Crying is shedding tears as a response to an emotional state in humans. The act of crying has been defined as "a complex secretomotor phenomenon characterized by the shedding of tears from the lacrimal apparatus, without any irritation of the ocular structures"...

 is an indication of sadness.

Sadness can be viewed as a temporary lowering of mood
Mood (psychology)
A mood is a relatively long lasting emotional state. Moods differ from emotions in that they are less specific, less intense, and less likely to be triggered by a particular stimulus or event....

, whereas depression
Depression (mood)
Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person's thoughts, behaviour, feelings and physical well-being. Depressed people may feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, or restless...

 is characterized by a persistent and intense lowered mood, as well as disruption to one's ability to function in day to day matters.

Sadness is one of Paul Ekman
Paul Ekman
Paul Ekman is a psychologist who has been a pioneer in the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions. He has been considered one of the 100 most eminent psychologists of the twentieth century...

's "six basic emotions - happy
Happiness is a mental state of well-being characterized by positive emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. A variety of biological, psychological, religious, and philosophical approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources....

, sad, angry
Anger is an automatic response to ill treatment. It is the way a person indicates he or she will not tolerate certain types of behaviour. It is a feedback mechanism in which an unpleasant stimulus is met with an unpleasant response....

, surprised
Surprise (emotion)
Surprise is a brief emotional state experienced as the result of an unexpected event. Surprise can have any valence; that is, it can be neutral/moderate, pleasant, or unpleasant. If a person experiences a very powerful or long lasting surprise, it may be considered shock.-Reality...

, afraid
Fear is a distressing negative sensation induced by a perceived threat. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger...

, disgust
Disgust is a type of aversion that involves withdrawing from a person or object with strong expressions of revulsion whether real or pretended. It is one of the basic emotions and is typically associated with things that are regarded as unclean, inedible, infectious, gory or otherwise offensive...


In childhood

'Being sad is a common experience in childhood...If faced openly, sadness can help families become stronger and more able to handle painful feelings'. On the other hand, some families may have the (conscious or unconscious) rule: 'No sadness allowed...we were not allowed to be sad...a matter of family pride'. The problem may then be that 'that screened-off emotion isn't available to us when we need it....the loss of sadness makes us a bit manic
Mania, the presence of which is a criterion for certain psychiatric diagnoses, is a state of abnormally elevated or irritable mood, arousal, and/ or energy levels. In a sense, it is the opposite of depression...


Sadness is part of the normal process of the child separating from an early symbiosis with the mother and becoming more independent. 'Every time he separates just a tiny bit more, he'll have to cope with a small loss. He'll have to get sad for a little bit'; and if the mother cannot bear this, 'if she dashes right in to relieve the child's distress every single time he shows any...the child is not getting a chance to learn how to cope with sadness'. This is why 'trying to jostle or joke out of a sad mood is devaluing to her' or him: 'we need to respect a child's right to experience a loss fully and deeply'.

At the same time, it seems clear that 'Sadness, however, seems to require a great deal of strength to bear', and a child in self-protection may develop 'hyperactivity or an early defensive activity against awareness of the painful affect of sadness'. This is why D. W. Winnicott suggests that 'when your infant shows that he can cry from sadness you can infer that he has travelled a long way in the development of his feelings....some people think that sad crying is one of the main roots of the more valuable kind of music'.

Coping mechanisms

'The single mood people generally put most effort into shaking is sadness...Unfortunately, some of the strategies most often resorted to can backfire, leaving people feeling worse than before. One such strategy is simply staying alone'. Ruminating, and "drowning one's sorrows", may also be counterproductive.

Two more positive alternatives have been recommended by cognitive therapy. 'One is to learn to challenge the thoughts at the center of rumination and think of more positive alternatives. The other is to purposely schedule pleasant, distracting events'.

Object relations theory
Object relations theory
Object relations theory is a psychodynamic theory within psychoanalytic psychology. The theory describes the process of developing a mind as one grows in relation to others in the environment....

 by contrast stresses the utility of staying with sadness: 'it's got to be conveyed to the person that it's all right for him to have the sad feelings' - easiest done perhaps 'where emotional support is offered to help them begin to feel the sadness'. Such an approach is fuelled by the underlying belief that 'the capacity to bear loss wholeheartedly, without pushing the experience away, essential to being truly alive and engaged with the world'.

Pupil empathy

Facial expressions of sadness with small pupil
The pupil is a hole located in the center of the iris of the eye that allows light to enter the retina. It appears black because most of the light entering the pupil is absorbed by the tissues inside the eye. In humans the pupil is round, but other species, such as some cats, have slit pupils. In...

s are judged significantly more intensely sad with decreasing pupil size. A person's own pupil size also mirror
Mirror neuron
A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behaviour of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. Such neurons have been directly observed in primate and other...

s this with them being smaller when viewing sad faces with small pupils. No parallel effect exists when people look at neutral, happy or angry expressions. The greater degree to which a person's pupils mirror another predicts a person's greater score on empathy
Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings that are being experienced by another sapient or semi-sapient being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion. The English word was coined in 1909 by E.B...


Cultural explorations

  • During the Renaissance, "Edmund Spenser
    Edmund Spenser
    Edmund Spenser was an English poet best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. He is recognised as one of the premier craftsmen of Modern English verse in its infancy, and one of the greatest poets in the English...

    's high estimation of sadness renders it as a badge of sort for the spiritually elect...this endorsement of sadness" in The Fairie Queene.
  • In The Lord of the Rings
    The Lord of the Rings
    The Lord of the Rings is a high fantasy epic written by English philologist and University of Oxford professor J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien's earlier, less complex children's fantasy novel The Hobbit , but eventually developed into a much larger work. It was written in...

    , Treebeard is described as having "a sad look in his eyes, sad but not unhappy". This may be linked to the way "an early meaning of 'sad' is 'settled, determined'", exemplifying "Tolkien's theses that determination should survive the worst that can happen".
  • Julia Kristeva
    Julia Kristeva
    Julia Kristeva is a Bulgarian-French philosopher, literary critic, psychoanalyst, sociologist, feminist, and, most recently, novelist, who has lived in France since the mid-1960s. She is now a Professor at the University Paris Diderot...

     considered that 'a diversification of moods, variety in sadness, refinement in sorrow
    Sorrow (emotion)
    Sorrow is an emotion, feeling, or sentiment. Sorrow 'is more "intense" than implies a long term state'. At the same time 'sorrow - but not unhappiness - suggests a degree of resignation...which lends sorrow its peculiar air of dignity'....

     or mourning are the imprint of a humanity that is surely not triumphant but subtle, ready to fight and creative'.

See also

Further reading

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