I am reading ‘The school of life’ introduced by Alan de Botton. It’s a great philosophical journey into the impact emotions have on our lives. A few pages in there came a section ‘In praise of melancholy’. I won’t type it all but these parts resonated…..
Melancholy is not rage or bitterness; it is a noble species of sadness that arises when we are properly open to the idea that suffering and disappointment are at the heart of human experience. It is not a disorder that needs to be cured; it is a tender-hearted, calm, dispassionate acknowledgement of how much agony we will inevitably have to travel through.
Modern society’s mania is to emphasise buoyancy and cheerfulness. It wishes either to medicalise melancholy states – and therefore ‘solve’ them – or deny their legitimacy altogether. The task of culture is to turn rage and forced jollity into melancholy. The more melancholy a culture can be, the less it’s individuals need to be persecuted by their own failures, lost illusions and regrets.
OK even typing that felt counter-culture and ‘downer’! But it goes back to what I have said before. I strongly believe that our children’s mental health is negatively affected by the ‘positive life images’ they are ‘sold’ and receive from a variety of sources (social media, adverts, friends boasting, magazine images, narcissism in society, images in shops etc). We do need to be helping our children understand that uncomfortable emotions and moods are a very normal part of human existence, that it is completely normal to feel them and every single one of us does have them. In doing this we are far less likely to panic or feel abnormal when sad times hit.
Here are some ways you can help your child accept negative emotions and moods as ‘normal’:
- When something sad happens, always validate negative feelings. e.g. I would feel that too, that’s a normal response, things do happen that make us feel sad.
- Describe ‘healthy’ moods and emotions as transient. Negative and positive emotions come and go and this is normal human reaction to life. Emphasise that when we feel extremely sad, there will be a time in the future when we will be experiencing positive and neutral emotions again.
- Discuss what might make a person sad, disappointed, upset and how these things can happen to everyone.
- Look at coping strategies that allow a certain amount of indulgence in a negative emotion rather than trying to distract or cheer up as immediate strategies. e.g. having a good cry, sitting quietly, having a hug, talking about what happened.
- Listen to melancholic pieces of music or look at ‘sad’ art. The composer/artist is portraying miserable aspects of life as they are fully recognised as part of being human and we can feel and relate to the sadness in the music/art. This is one of my favourite pieces of melancholy in music!
- Acknowledge sadness within stories you read to your child or films you watch. A great book for considering sadness is Michael Rosen’s Sad book.
- Explain how adverts use positive images to try and sell us things – the idea that we will also be really happy and successful if we buy the product and this is why we see more images of happy people than we do sad.
- When your child is older, discuss what people do and do not post on social media and how most people only ‘show’ the good and interesting things in their lives. This can lead us to assuming everyone else is having a much better time than we are.