Sadness is not necessarily a problem that needs a solution.

June 6, 2024


Grievers may not experience their sadness as a problem so much as recognizing it’s a state they’re in. When grievers get concerned about their sadness it’s due in part to others telling them, directly or indirectly, that they shouldn’t feel the way they are feeling.  When sadness is a response to non-death losses, grievers report hearing statements such as “You’ll find other things to do”, “Your life is still good”, “C’mon, let’s do something fun”. These kind of things people say to someone taking a risk to put their emotions on the line and share them are reasons why people don’t speak up/out. The fear of getting minimized, not acknowledged, seen, or heard is enough to shut anyone down. Clearly these responses have more to do with who says them than those who receives them. Stating your sadness is a proactive step to letting go in order to move forward. To not state your sadness is to hold on, dig in and get stuck making it difficult to move forward. Sadness can move to depression when not expressed or acknowledged.


Conventional wisdom about sadness when in response to a death loss says it’s acceptable for a brief period of time and if it goes on too long then it is a problem. Grievers report hearing statements such as, “You’re still sad?”, “It’s been a while now”, “You’ll be alright”. The statements listed here are all factually correct, while being wholly inappropriate and dismissive. Grievers are constantly trying to be talked out of their feelings. Sadly some (most?) buy into the idea that their feelings are problems requiring solutions. After all, “If so many of my friends and family are telling me the same thing I guess they’re right”. This is one of the reasons the intensity of grief can last so long; It doesn’t get acknowledged so we shut it down and try to bury it – only to have it stay active.


There are times when sadness can be overwhelming. Perhaps even to a point where it impacts someone’s ability to function. If this is the case then interventions need to be quick, efficient, and directed toward the struggling person’s well-being. We always need to monitor the intensity, frequency, duration, and level of impairment sadness is bringing someone. Short of this – and in perhaps many situations – sadness is an emotion to be tended to, not a problem to solve. Yet so many treat it as a problem to solve.


To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, “A measure of intelligence is the ability to hold two paradoxical ideas simultaneously and still be able to function.” We can be sad and “find other things to do”, “realize our life is good” and go “do something fun”. We can be sad “still” and “for a while” and “be alright.” We are multifaceted people, not singular and thus only capable of one thing at a time. Yet we ascribe to the singular notion, not the multifaceted. It is a flawed belief system that if we are sad, we cannot be anything else.  Sadness is not necessarily a problem in need of a solution, it’s more of a natural outcome of missing something or someone.