Normalize clouds and melancholy

Understanding the happy-sad balance and how our brains maintain stability through ups and downs

Talia Parlane , Guest Writer

Illustration by Mia Eshima

“It is okay to be sad.”

That was my younger sister’s response after I had sent her a number of panicky text messages one morning. Sprawled out on my bed, I had written her several paragraphs on something that had been hurting and frustrating me that week. I was feeling slightly miserable.

Shortly after, noticing the sun filtering through my pale curtains that were drawn (and had been for the past few days), I jolted upright and texted her that I was actually just fine. My final message was a hastily composed argument for why my feelings of sadness had been rational—a little reminder that despite all of that, I was still, in fact, a very happy and reasonable person.

In the past, I’ve often struggled to come to terms with sadness as an emotion and a normal part of life. Any hint of sorrow and I would spiral, wondering why I felt the way I did and how come my logic and rationalizing had not cured me.

Sometimes it felt like those feelings were there for no reason. It was especially in those moments that I would panic a little, wondering whether there was some deeper underlying issue within me that I had not yet been able to identify and fix. I knew I was not depressed, so what else could be wrong?

What past me had neglected to understand was that sadness, like happiness, is simply an emotion that almost everyone experiences pretty regularly. Although it seems obvious, it is important to be aware of this shared emotional experience, especially in today’s society of digitalization and highlight reels where we are constantly conditioned to show and exchange only our best moments and happiest sides.

Outside of our homes and private spaces, our social worlds are filled with that sort of heightened image of positivity. In parties and social outings we find laughter and exhilaration. It isn’t until after we return to our rooms that the excitement subsides. And it isn’t until the next morning when the hangover hits.

For every high, there is always a come down. This is healthy—people living in a constant state of elation would simply not be able to survive or make rational decisions. Scientifically, with pleasure and pain being collocated in the same part of our brain, there needs to be a process of neutralization that is constantly happening in order to ensure that the chemicals in our brain stay balanced.

Understanding this process of homeostasis where our emotions need to move towards an equilibrium and balance out is ultimately what helped me come to terms with these less explainable moments of sadness. Although it feels cheesy to say, learning about the facts and rationale behind our emotions was comforting in that it helped me come to terms with feeling sad sometimes and understanding that I am not alone in this experience.

Our ultimate goal in life should not be constant happiness. That is simply unattainable. It would be highly unlikely to find even a single content human being in this world who never experiences sadness every now and then. Additionally, I would argue that it is, in part, through sadness that we create meaning and empathy in our lives.

Without experiencing lows and hardships, there would be no standard for comparison when it comes to appreciating and valuing the happier moments in life. Ultimately we should not cling so tightly to this false image of happiness. Instead, we should aim for balance and peace.

Past me would think it was a given that rainy days were considerably more depressing than sunny days. But over time, especially on my low days, I have come to love the rain. Because there’s nothing worse than feeling like you should be happy just because it’s sunny out.

Having that pressure to be positive because of the good weather, on top of all the social obligations that life brings, is simply abysmal. Instead, I find that those gray clouds on a gloomy day can be quite welcoming and affirming of my feelings of melancholy. There is no dissonance, only peace. The fresh air after a drizzle always gives hope of more life and happiness to come.