Sunday, September 08, 2013

Happiness in Sadness

I decided to listen to some Bluegrass on a lunch break last week, and one of the songs conjured up a flashback of a conversation I had with my parents when I was teenager. I can't remember exactly how old I was, but it must have been around fifteen or sixteen. The song lyrics that sparked the flashback went something like, " I was born a bastard child in New Orleans, to a woman I never met." The statement that started the forgotten conversation with my parents went something like, "I kinda wish you two had some dark secret like a kid you gave up for adoption before you were married, or something cool like that." Yeah, I remember using the word cool.

I have often wondered where my fascination with otherwise sad life situations comes from, but there's no denying those kind of tragedies touch an internal nerve I find oddly enjoyable. From imagining my dog dying just to make myself cry as a ten year old, to having full inner monologue back-n-forth divorce conversations with my ex, years before we actually went there. (While I know the latter had nothing to do with our problems, that one is still disturbing.)

I know I'm not alone in this morbid fascination with deep and dark sadness. Heck, Mr. Shakespeare is arguably most famous for his tragedies. And while the majority of people would say they love a happy ending, the reality is you usually pass through either fear or sadness --or worse-- before you arrive at a happy ending, and those situations being bad is what makes the circumstance that comes after, a happy one.

But more than just a desire to experience bad because you know good comes after, is the very realness and intensity that comes with dramatic life situations. Dark events, such as the plots in Shakespeare's tragedies, evoke deep, often unexplainable emotions and shifts in feelings. Those spikes of internal angst, anxiety, confusion, and yes, sadness, are REAL feelings that have no equal. I would even go as far as to say that deep sadness is more intense and leaves more lasting effects than deep happiness.

So if that level of sadness is so intense, why in the world would wack-jobs like me find dark pleasure in that? (Again, I know I'm not alone in this.)

Here's my opinion... deep feelings, even bad ones, are what help us know we're alive. It is probably (on a different level of mental stability) the same kind of reaction in the heart, mind, and soul of people who cut themselves. When those folks are asked why they do such a harmful thing to themselves, the most usual answer is, "I just wanted to FEAL."

On a less dark angle of the picture, think about the romantic overtones people place on some things. Not lovey-dovey romantic, rather the pretty mental pictures of things we aren't or haven't personally experienced. A good example of this is the way we look at the pioneers and the Old West. We tend to think it would be so awesome to live in cute log cabins, walk the streets of prairie towns, cook on open fires, go to community barn dances, wear old fashioned clothes, and on and on. We choose to ignore that those people only had a fifty/fifty chance of even surviving the wagon ride, let alone the diseases, starvation, Indian attacks, and harsh weather they had to endure when they got where they were going.

In the same way, our minds and hearts choose to imagine the romantic side of many modern-day ugly situations like long-lost siblings, secret lovers, a soldier's wife waiting for him, etc. The truth is, those are horribly, deeply sad things that somehow become things we "enjoy" thinking and dreaming about. The question could be asked, why are we so sick and twisted?

The reality of the human condition, is that we aren't all sicko's or crazy in the head... it all has to do with how we process our emotions and how deeply we want to feel. So what's your take on it?


Blogger joshoowah said...

I think it is interesting to point out, too, that the Almighty tends to meet us in our darkest times. That includes the times when we are ourselves are manifestations of darkness. 11

1:45 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

I think it is interesting to note here that emotional pain drives creativity. I was talking to someone recently who said they used to feel very creative and would make beautiful things, write songs, etc. but recently they hadn't felt that sort of "spark" of inspiration any longer. We also talked about how things had been going better than ever in their life and they were the happiest they've ever been. In a way happiness gets in the way of creativity.

I also wonder if the phenomenon you've noticed is similar to the phenomenon of horror films. Why is it that some people love being scared beyond their wits? One theory is that people simply want the stimulation in a safe place (you can rest assured you'll finish the movie in one piece). It also may be that the true pleasure comes from the relief that follows the fear. Perhaps the same could be said for the feelings of deep sadness you've sought out -- that the real pleasure is knowing that once the sad feelings are gone you get to go back to cuddling your wife, petting your dog and smoking your pipe.

12:12 PM  

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