I was sad a lot growing up. It got worse in high school. Being on the cheer squad I felt like being happy and excited was a requirement. I met that requirement, at least on the outside. But on the inside, I didn’t always feel that way. I forced myself to conform to what was expected. I was constantly stressing, wondering what was wrong with me. Was I the only person to ever experience this confusion? If I wasn’t, how exactly was everyone else hiding it? I spent so much time and energy focusing on my lack of genuine enthusiasm that I didn’t know who I was.
At the end of my senior year in high school, a wonderful friend explained the paradox between joy and sadness to me. He revealed the nature of my dueling emotions. He clarified how I couldn’t know joy without confronting sadness. Coming from him, it sounded so simple! I had never really thought about this necessary partnership until we spoke. The solution to my problem became clear to me. It’s okay to be sad sometimes. If not for misery, how could we know joy?
This wonderful friend became my husband. A year after our wedding, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and while I’m taking medication to help, I still doubt myself. Whenever I feel that torment, my husband tells me, “It’s okay to feel this way.” He can’t know the comfort that brings to me during the dark times. It always takes me back to when he first told me about joy and pain. After all of this time, his explanation still brings such comfort. In the past five years of marriage, I have not only seen this truth over and over again, but it’s grown into a deeper understanding – an understanding of the harmony between sadness and joy.
Despite not being able to confide in others for so long, it seems that my situation isn’t that unique. Disney’s Inside Out simplifies the joy-sadness paradox for a broader audience. The film is about a girl and the different emotions she experiences as she reaches adolescence. Each emotion becomes a character inside of her head that controls her feelings on different situations. In the end, she matures when she feels emotions combine to work together instead of alone. This story describes the importance of the fusion of joy and sadness.
The first time I watched Inside Out, I spent an entire long-distance flight fighting off tears. I didn’t want to be the crazy lady crying during children’s movies, but it was exactly what I needed. I recalled that day when I learned something that affected the rest of my life. “Maybe,” I thought, “There is a difference between true joy and just happiness.” Happiness depends on external circumstances, but true joy is just there. It is constant. Joy requires the wisdom that comes from patiently enduring grief.
The unity of sadness and joy, or any emotions, shape us as individuals. The ability to lead a fulfilling life does not come from constant happiness, but from embracing our feelings while understanding that those emotions shape us. My ignorance caused me so much anguish all of those years ago.
Because of my experiences with sadness and discouragement, I have gained a deeper appreciation for the various feelings we experience—especially Joy. Real Joy resides in the small things in life; my husband, my children, my beliefs, shared experiences, and the relationships I develop. Unfortunately, those exact things can bring grief and despair, but they only affect my happiness, they do not determine my Joy. Each new bout with depression reminds me of those things that bring Joy.
My purpose is not to discourage anyone, instead I want to bring hope to those who may be feeling just like I do at times. Depression is not something to be ashamed of. It is important to allow yourself to feel that way, acknowledge it for what it is, and then pick yourself up and carry on. For anyone who is struggling, just remember, it’s okay to feel sad.
– Melissa Jackson