Saturday, July 04, 2015

Dealing with sadness

Given the prevailing caricature of the man whose physiognomy consisted of nothing but an oversize cerebellum, the chances are exceedingly low of anyone guessing Thomas to have been the author of the following sensitively practical reflections on how to cope with sadness. 
First, he says, you should cry, both tears and groans, though you might also try talk therapy. Above all, no stiff upper lip: First of all, because anything that is causing you inner hurt afflicts you all the more for being contained, as the mind becomes fixated upon it. But when it is let out it is in a certain degree dissipated and the inner sadness to that extent diminished. For this reason when people are afflicted by sadness and vent it with tears and groans, or even tell of it in words, the sadness decreases. 
A second reason is that human beings always get some pleasure out of acting appropriately, and weeping and groaning is just what the person who is sad and doleful should be doing. Being in this sort of way appropriate behavior it gives a certain kind of mitigating pleasure that reduces the sadness. 
Next, if sad, count on your friends. That is the natural thing to do. One reason, the weaker of two, he says, is that if a friend shares your sadness it will seem as if the burden of it is lightened by virtue of her carrying part of it for you. But the better reason is that being prepared to share a friend's sadness and console him is a way of showing love for him, and the perception of the love thus shown to him by a friend gives the sort of pleasure that alleviates the sadness. 
You could also, of course, try contemplative prayer, if, like Thomas, you find contemplation to be the most intense of all pleasures, the point being that it is always some kind of pleasure that drives sadness away. If, however, weeping, groaning, therapeutic talk, prayer, and friends all fail to cheer you up, take a hot bath and get a good night's sleep. Thus all-brain Thomas.

From Thomas Aquinas: a portrait, by Denys Turner
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