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Value, Meaning, Sadness, and Depression

The only thing sad about sadness is missing its point.

When emotions are predominantly negative, we're almost always violating our deepest values, ignoring them, or grieving the loss of someone or something of significant value. Sadness is the natural reaction to loss. Add violation of deeper values or inattention to them, and you will likely become depressed or, if you blame the loss or violation on someone else, chronically resentful.

Depression has many causes, some of them physiological - medical factors must always be ruled out. However, the causes of distressed conditions are not often the same thing that maintains them. Merely addressing initial causes is not enough.

Regardless of the initial causes, depression will not improve without emotional investment in creating and sustaining value. Medical treatment, exercise, and psychotherapy help to the extent that they facilitate value investment. Obviously, the more value we create, the harder it becomes to engage in the sort of behaviors that keep us stuck in negative moods, specifically devaluing self and others. More important, the result of creating and maintaining value is a revitalization of the sense of meaning and purpose that diminishes in depression.

When it comes to negative emotional states, the worst thing we can do is act on feelings, as that all but guarantees making the same mistake over and over. To fight depressed mood, we must go against present feelings, since few depressed persons feel like putting out the energy it takes to improve.

The exception to the above is in the case of sadness. You do want to act on sadness but not by dwelling on how bad it feels. The deeper message of sadness is to build more value. When we fail to do so, sadness turns into depression.

Never focus on how bad you feel or, worse, on how justified you are in feeling bad. Focus instead on what you need to do to get better. This most likely means becoming more of the person you most want to be.

The first step in fighting depressed mood is to determine the most important things to you and what makes them important and worthy of appreciation, time, energy, and sacrifice. Next, focus on the most important qualities about you. This should lead to the core values that depressed mood is obscuring. Recommit to them.

You don't have to be strong in all the major areas of value-creation. Make a small investment in most, with a larger investment in one or two. Emotional investment in any of the following areas will alleviate most negative emotional states:

  • Basic humanity (Recognizing the inherent value of others makes us feel more humane.)
  • Sense of community (identification with groups of people, based on shared values, goals, or experiences)
  • Connection to nature
  • Appreciation or creation of arts, crafts, literature, music, architecture, etc.
  • Sense of spirituality (connection to something larger than the self)
  • Compassionate behavior (helping others by supporting their capacity for autonomy and connection).

Creating value is not restricted to overt behavior. It can be accomplished through greater awareness of the things you already value, e.g., your humanity and capacity to connect, protect, appreciate, and love.

More on creating and maintaining value is available at CompassionPower.