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  • Sadness is part of the human experience,

  • but for centuries there has been vast disagreement

  • over what exactly it is and what, if anything, to do about it.

  • In its simplest terms,

  • sadness is often thought of

  • as the natural reaction to a difficult situation.

  • You feel sad when a friend moves away or when a pet dies.

  • When a friend says, "I'm sad,"

  • you often respond by asking, "What happened?"

  • But your assumption that sadness has an external cause outside the self

  • is a relatively new idea.

  • Ancient Greek doctors didn't view sadness that way.

  • They believed it was a dark fluid inside the body.

  • According to their humoral system,

  • the human body and soul were controlled by four fluids, known as humors,

  • and their balance directly influenced a person's health and temperament.

  • Melancholia comes from melaina kole,

  • the word for black bile, the humor believed to cause sadness.

  • By changing your diet and through medical practices,

  • you could bring your humors into balance.

  • Even though we now know much more about the systems

  • that govern the human body,

  • these Greek ideas about sadness

  • resonate with current views,

  • not on the sadness we all occasionally feel,

  • but on clinical depression.

  • Doctors believe that certain kinds of long-term,

  • unexplained emotional states are at least partially related to brain chemistry,

  • the balance of various chemicals present inside the brain.

  • Like the Greek system,

  • changing the balance of these chemicals can deeply alter

  • how we respond to even extremely difficult circumstances.

  • There's also a long tradition of attempting to discern

  • the value of sadness,

  • and in that discussion,

  • you'll find a strong argument that sadness is not only

  • an inevitable part of life but an essential one.

  • If you've never felt melancholy,

  • you've missed out on part of what it means to be human.

  • Many thinkers contend that melancholy is necessary in gaining wisdom.

  • Robert Burton, born in 1577,

  • spent his life studying the causes and experience of sadness.

  • In his masterpiece "The Anatomy of Melancholy,"

  • Burton wrote, "He that increaseth wisdom increaseth sorrow."

  • The Romantic poets of the early 19th century

  • believed melancholy allows us to more deeply understand other profound emotions,

  • like beauty and joy.

  • To understand the sadness of the trees losing their leaves in the fall

  • is to more fully understand the cycle of life that brings flowers in the spring.

  • But wisdom and emotional intelligence seem pretty high on the hierarchy of needs.

  • Does sadness have value on a more basic, tangible,

  • maybe even evolutionary level?

  • Scientists think that crying and feeling withdrawn

  • is what originally helped our ancestors secure social bonds

  • and helped them get the support they needed.

  • Sadness, as opposed to anger or violence, was an expression of suffering

  • that could immediately bring people closer to the suffering person,

  • and this helped both the person and the larger community to thrive.

  • Perhaps sadness helped generate the unity we needed to survive,

  • but many have wondered whether the suffering felt by others

  • is anything like the suffering we experience ourselves.

  • The poet Emily Dickinson wrote,

  • "I measure every Grief I meet With narrow, probing Eyes -

  • I wonder if it weighs like MIne - Or has an Easier size."

  • And in the 20th century,

  • medical anthropologists, like Arthur Kleinman,

  • gathered evidence from the way people talk about pain

  • to suggest that emotions aren't universal at all,

  • and that culture, particularly the way we use language,

  • can influence how we feel.

  • When we talk about heartbreak,

  • the feeling of brokenness becomes part of our experience,

  • where as in a culture that talks about a bruised heart,

  • there actually seems to be a different subjective experience.

  • Some contemporary thinkers aren't interested

  • in sadness' subjectivity versus universality,

  • and would rather use technology to eliminate suffering in all its forms.

  • David Pearce has suggested that genetic engineering

  • and other contemporary processes

  • cannot only alter the way humans experience emotional and physical pain,

  • but that world ecosystems ought to be redesigned

  • so that animals don't suffer in the wild.

  • He calls his project "paradise engineering."

  • But is there something sad about a world without sadness?

  • Our cavemen ancestors and favorite poets

  • might not want any part of such a paradise.

  • In fact, the only things about sadness that seem universally agreed upon

  • are that it has been felt by most people throughout time,

  • and that for thousands of years,

  • one of the best ways we have to deal with this difficult emotion

  • is to articulate it, to try to express what feels inexpressable.

  • In the words of Emily Dickinson,

  • "'Hope' is the thing with feathers - That perches in the soul -

  • "And sings the tune without the words - And never stops - at all -"

Sadness is part of the human experience,

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B1 US TED-Ed sadness melancholy suffering experience balance

【TED-Ed】A brief history of melancholy - Courtney Stephens

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