Whenever I experience a sad day, I always wonder why sadness is part of our lives. Why do we have to experience sadness? Even though I’m feeling happy at the moment, I know that happy feeling will eventually be replaced by sadness. Why is it that happiness can’t exist without sadness?
The answer is that eternal happiness simply doesn’t exist. Sadness is a vital emotion that we can’t turn off. Even if we could, we shouldn’t want to. We experience sadness in our lives in order to better appreciate and be grateful for the happy times in our lives.
This article covers why happiness can’t exist without sadness. I’ve included different examples that will help you understand why sadness is not necessarily a bad part of our lives.
- Happiness and sadness analogy
- Eternal happiness does not exist
- The hedonic treadmill
- Accepting sadness to allow happiness to exist
- Sadness and happiness work together
- Learn from your happiness and sadness
- Closing words
What is happiness exactly? What is there to learn about happiness? This article is a part of the most in-depth guide on how to be happy, which answers these questions in the first section: What Is Happiness?
Happiness and sadness analogy
I’ve always loved Bob Ross when I grew up. Whenever I spent a sick day at home, there was usually nothing to watch on the usual TV channels, so I started to look for something else. Somehow, I would always find Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting on some channel I would normally never watch (it was a pretty unknown channel that broadcasted the show in the Netherlands).
I’ve since found (and re-watched) his entire series over at YouTube. Bob Ross has said numerous things on his show that have reached a somewhat cult status, like “happy little trees” and “beat the devil out of it”.
But for me, his most touching quote has always been:
“Gotta have opposites, light and dark and dark and light, in painting.”
He said this a number of times on his show while working on the darker areas of his paintings. Here’s an example of what I mean (I remembered this specific part since it’s one of my favorite episodes):
He carefully explains the analogy here about happiness and sadness and how they have to co-exist in life.
“It’s like in life. Gotta have a little sadness once in a while so you know when the good times come.”
Bob Ross explains how both light and dark (or happiness and sadness) must co-exist.
- If you place light paint on a layer of light paint, you have nothing.
- If you place dark paint on a layer of dark paint, you – again – have basically nothing.
Why am I saying all this stuff about Bob Ross?
Because I think this is the most wonderful and fitting analogy about happiness and sadness. This analogy perfectly explains to me how happiness and sadness coexist in our world and how life will always contain a natural mix of both these things. Every life contains a unique mix of happiness and sadness that everybody needs to live by.
If you watch this YouTube clip, you might notice how Bob Ross continues to say:
“You gotta have a little sadness once in a while so you know when the good times come. I’m waiting on the good times now.”
If you’re wondering why he was waiting on the good times, it’s because this episode was shot at the time his wife passed from cancer.
Eternal happiness does not exist
If you’ve searched Google for “can happiness exist without sadness“, then I’m sorry to break the news to you: eternal happiness simply doesn’t exist.
Even the happiest person alive has experienced sadness in his or her life. As I just explained with Bob Ross’ analogy, happiness can only exist because we experience sadness as well. There are simply too many factors in our lives that we cannot control.
In fact, happiness is generally believed to consist of the following aspects:
- 50% is determined by genetics
- 10% is determined by external factors
- 40% is determined by your own outlook
Can you see how some of this “happiness” is completely out of our control?
Some examples of the things in our lives that we can’t fully control:
- The health and well-being of the people we love
- The health and well-being of ourselves (everybody can get sick)
- The weather
- The job market (which always seems to be shitty)
- The moment our laundry machine decides to break down
- The outcome of elections
You see where this is going right?
All these things are inevitably going to cause sadness at some point in our lives. You can probably think of a clear example of how you’ve been sad recently because of one of these factors. It’s the simple but painful truth: eternal happiness does not exist.
A personal example of sadness
Hell, sadness can even creep into our lives when we think we have everything under control. Here’s a (slightly silly) example of what I’ve experienced recently. My girlfriend and I rented a car on Sao Miguel, a beautiful island of the Azores, and wanted to explore the beautiful nature. The weather predictions were wonderful, but unfortunately, mother nature had a different idea.
The weather during our road trip
My girlfriend and I were quite bummed because of the weather. Even though we had planned everything for a wonderful and happy day, we still ended up feeling quite sad. Sometimes, things happen that are outside our circle of influence, and that’s something we just have to accept.
I know this is just a silly example. There are more serious examples that I can think of, but the point remains the same: happiness cannot exist without sadness.
The hedonic treadmill
Even if you somehow manage to get rid of every single negative happiness factor in your life, then you’re still not guaranteed eternal happiness.
Let’s say you manage to find a life in which you are unaffected by any of the factors that I previously mentioned. Lucky you: there’s nothing that could ever have a negative influence on your happiness.
Totally unrealistic, but let’s continue with this hypothetical example. Will you be happy with such a life?
Most probably not, because you will get used to your limited number of factors that do make you happy. This is called the hedonic treadmill.
When you do the same things over and over again, the returns will quickly diminish over time. Even if you focused your entire life on a single thing that makes you happy – let’s go with skiing – then you will eventually find yourself getting bored. You’ll slowly adapt to your new life in a way that the returns of skiing on your happiness will become zero.
I’ve written more about the hedonic treadmill in my happiness essay about “What is happiness?”. This essay contains more examples of how the hedonic treadmill will keep you from being eternally happy.
Accepting sadness to allow happiness to exist
Happiness and sadness are considered to be two opposites. When comparing happiness and sadness, happiness is always seen as the more important of the two emotions. However, both are needed to be able to survive sanely and it could be argued that sadness might be the more important of the two, inviting critical thinking and fairness to others.
Pixar’s “Inside Out” is a great example of happiness and sadness
If you haven’t watched Pixar’s “Inside Out” yet, I highly recommend that you do. A key plot in this movie is about how sadness is critical in a healthy and natural life.
Even though we can try our hardest to block it, restrict it or just to deny it, doing so will only result in unhappiness down the line.
This hilarious scene shows how the lead character of the movie “Joy” tries to block, resist and deny “Sadness” to become a natural part of the brain. She draws a circle of sadness in order to contain it.
Does this strategy work?
You probably expect this answer, but NO. “Turning off” sadness in your life doesn’t work.
I won’t spoil the movie. Just watch it, as it adds a brilliant, funny and creative twist to the constant “battle” between sadness and happiness.
Sadness and happiness work together
Happiness and sadness co-exist and we need to accept that.
In fact, it’s important to know that happiness and sadness are constantly moving and evolving aspects of our lives. I always try to compare it to the tides. Our happiness moves up and down without having the ability to control it.
If you’re feeling sad and unhappy at this moment, I want you to know that happiness will inevitably find its way back into your life.
And when that happens again, don’t forget that eternal happiness is a myth. You will feel unhappy and sad again at one point. That’s just a part of life. Our happiness moves like a tide, and we can’t fully control it.
Learn from your happiness and sadness
Happiness and sadness co-exist and the way these emotions are moving and shaping our life is something outside our circle of influence. However, that doesn’t mean that we have no influence on our happiness at all.
In fact, I strongly believe that we can steer our life in the best direction possible if we are open to learning about the things that make us happy. You can do this by simply tracking your happiness every day on a scale from 1 to 10. I’ve done this for more than 5 years already, and have learned a tremendous amount of actionable things about my life.
You can do this too. That’s why I want to encourage you to try to track your happiness.
I hope you’ve found an answer in this article. If you are currently sad and wondering if you can be happy without ever feeling sadness again, I want you to know that feeling sad is not something that must be avoided at all cost.
In fact, sadness is a vital emotion that we should not turn off. Even if we could, we shouldn’t want to. We experience sadness in our lives in order to better appreciate and be grateful for the happy times in our lives. Even though happiness and sadness are opposites, these emotions work together in a tidal way which is only natural.
You have to embrace it in order to find happiness in your life.
Founder of Tracking Happiness and lives in the Netherlands. Ran 5 marathons, with one of them in under 4 hours (3:59:58 to be exact). Data junkie and happiness tracker for over 6 years.