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On Sadness (With Tips)

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Photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash

I had a chat with my daughter this morning. She's ten years old and mentioned that her teacher, as part of the registry, asks everyone how they're feeling today, from 0 to 10. We talked about how most kids yesterday were feeling 2, except the Italian kid who was feeling 10 (and brave enough to share it). Then I asked her what she said.

She answered: "I said I feel 10, but I always say I feel 10, even if I don't."

I asked her why.

She said that when she says she feels 2 (on days other than the day after a national football defeat), everyone makes a big fuss out of it. Her teacher tells her to write why she feels sad today and checks in on her later in the day. Her friends ask her if she's ok all the time.

It made me think about a recent therapy session where I said I feel sad sometimes. My therapist (who is excellent, by the way) asked if I'm unhappy. I explained it's not the same thing. When I was a child, I was sad occasionally. She asked if I was an unhappy child. I wasn't, not at all. I had a reasonably happy childhood, honest.

I believe it's ok to be sad sometimes. If you're miserable all the time, if you're also hopeless, that's something else entirely. But it's ok to be sad, angry, and frustrated. These are natural feelings.

My parents didn't know what to do with my sadness. They would dismiss it, which made sense to them, as the things that make a kid sad can be funny for adults. A lost ice cream, an angry word from a friend, that feeling that the day is over and you haven't read all the books you wanted to read. Now the pendulum seems to have swung the other way: we overreact to sadness. But when we do that, we send the message that it's not ok to be sad, that you must feel happy all the time.

I try my best not to dismiss my daughter's sadness or my own. Sometimes we can't even explain why we're sad. It's just general existential melancholy, I guess. I also try not to overreact to her sadness, which is hard as a parent. But if she's sad because her friend teamed up with someone else in science class, or if I'm sad because I will never be able to live all the lives I want to, that's ok. These are legitimate reasons to feel low.

Here's the takeaway: we'll be ok in a little bit. Don't pity us, don't treat us like we're made of porcelain, and don't act like you don't get sad sometimes, too. Don't tell us to find the silver lining. We'll do that on our own, in our own time, thank you very much. Ask us if we need a hug if you want to help, and respect our answer.


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