How to Lose Sadness and Find Happiness

How can we experience the sadness of life and still live a happy life?

Posted May 11, 2015

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Almost twenty years ago, the most wonderful event happened to me. At a local pet store, I saw a beautiful yellow Labrador retriever for sale. I immediately took him home and named him Einstein. Einstein was a magnificent dog, the smartest dog I ever knew. I had the privilege of taking him to work with me every single day. He would be with me while I worked with my patients, and he would help them when they were feeling sad. He had a real sensitivity to people and their emotions, going to them and kissing them when they were feeling down. Einstein was a great companion, and we did a lot of hiking together. For fifteen and a half years, he was with me almost every single day.

If you are a pet or people lover, you know how attached we can become to a person or animal with whom we spend a whole lifetime. We love them, they return that love, and we form a tight loving bond.

Well, after fifteen and a half years, Einstein finally came to his end, and thankfully I was with him when he died. When he took his last breath and he was gone, tears just flowed out of me. Already I missed him, and I was so very sad about his passing.

The sadness did dissipate, and I slowly felt better. But at moments, I still felt a wave of sorrow pass over me. Each time I needed to cry, I allowed myself that time to cry, and then I would feel better. When I miss him now, I am not sad anymore; rather, I am glad for the valuable time I had with him.

My grandmother also loved animals, and when the last dog she had passed away, she said, “I’m never gonna get a dog again; it’s just too hard to lose them.” I think this is what a lot of us do in life. We have sad experiences happen to us, and they are just too hard, and we don’t want them ever to happen again. So, we put up our walls and do things that prevent us from feeling pain. What we don’t realize is that by trying to prevent pain, we also block happiness.

So how can we experience the sadness of life and still live a happy life? How can we be happy with sadness? Sadness is actually a very healthy emotional response to events that happen to us, and we all will likely experience sadness of some sort in life. We’re going to have losses, and if we feel those losses, they can help us move forward. Things are impermanent, things change, we feel them, and the natural, healthy response to change is sadness and tears. It’s normal, and it’s healthy for us.

Unfortunately, many of us transform that sadness into depression, which keeps us stuck.

Sadness and shedding tears for a loss are normal and healthy. But when we think those sad feelings will be with us forever and we will never be happy again or an experience was so horrible that it shouldn’t have happened, we step out of sadness and move into depression. There is nothing wrong with being sad, but we have to be careful that it doesn’t turn into depression. Once depression kicks in, we can feel horrible and at the end of that crying session we’re not going to feel better.

This is something important to look out for. Is our time of being sad helping us to feel better or not? To keep sadness from overwhelming us or turning into depression, we have to limit our sorrow to only moments. If, instead, we’re thinking about what’s causing our sadness over and over, it’s going to turn it into depression. If we don’t want to be depressed and we do want to be happy, then we need to be sad when we’re sad but then continue to live because life isn’t about loss. Yes, we sometimes experience loss, and sometimes a loss can be horrible. But life isn’t only about that; in life there will always be beautiful things going on.

To be happy, we need to learn to live in the present time. In the moment right now, life isn’t pure sadness; it never is. There might be different types of sadness, but not pure sadness.

Our lives are filled with stories. But sometimes, we get caught up in one. We stay stuck with it, playing it over in our minds. We’re no longer in the moment because that story is about what happened before; it’s not happening now. Replaying the story may make us feel good if it is a good story. But guess what? That good story is going to pass. If it’s a bad story, it’s also going to pass if we let it. Stories pass over us all the time, unless our mind keeps feeding them to us.

So what we can do instead is learn to be with what is. What’s happening right now? If you’re out with your friends and having a good time, have a good time and know that you don’t need to feel depressed.

Some people experience a great loss and think they have to be sad to honor the memory, for instance, of a loved one who passed away. We think we have to be sad. We don’t have to be—it’s a choice. But the choice to look out for isn’t the sadness but is allowing or not allowing the sadness to turn into depression. Depression is based on thoughts, and we don’t need to be so caught up in all our thoughts. We can prevent them from getting in the way of our living life well.

The key is to live in the present moment. If right now we feel the urge to cry, then that’s fine. At the end of the sad crying session, we should feel better. The crying is over, the sadness has passed, and we can continue living our day and get back to living life. It’s about staying out of our heads, letting go of thoughts from the past, and staying in the present moment. When we do that, we can have a beautiful life because in the present moment there will always be something beautiful. If we choose to be with the beauty and not get stuck with the loss in the pain or in the attachments to that loss, we remember that life is impermanent and so we don’t have to suffer. We say, “Oh, here comes that story again. Instead, I need to get back to what’s happening here now.” Whenever that story comes, we just focus on what is happening now. With time and practice, we’ll get better at this, and we will train ourselves to be happy.

Yes, there is going to be sadness, and there is nothing wrong with it. But it should take up only a small part of our lives, not large chunks of it. Most of our lives can be beautiful if we just allow ourselves to live in the present moment, live life, and enjoy what we have.